Any time a #1-ranked team comes to play in your stadium there's going to be a lot of attention on your game. That will certainly be the case when #1 Alabama rolls into Columbia to face #19 South Carolina. The game will be the national game of the week in the SEC and College GameDay will be setting up in the Horseshoe to spotlight the game between the Tide and Gamecocks. In Steve Spurrier's weekly press conference, the Gamecock coach said it's an honor to have the GameDay crew in Columbia.
"We're looking forward to having GameDay in Columbia," Spurrier said. That's an honor, a compliment to our football program, to our university that they'll come here. Obviously, we know that Alabama's probably the biggest reason that they're coming, but that's OK. If they believe this is one of the biggest games in the country this week, we're happy to participate and I believe we'll give a good account of ourselves."
As can be expected, Spurrier is very impressed with the Tide.
"They are the epitome of a team," Spurrier said. "They are good in all areas. I don't
think they have a leading passer or a leading rusher right now, maybe not even the leading tackler. But overall as a team obviously they're very good."
While that is true that Bama doesn't have a statistical leader in the conference, their team is ranked at the top in what matters most; points. The Bama offense is #1 in conference in scoring (37.8), and the defense is also #1 in the conference in scoring (9). Spurrier believes it's the fundamentals that Alabama does best.
"the biggest thing that they do well is called blocking and tackling. They're really good tacklers. Guys don't break a whole bunch of them and obviously they are very good blockers."
The key to pulling off a monumental upset is putting the ball in the end zone when given the opportunity, something Bama does not allow defensively. Spurrier points to last week's victory over Florida and the first drive of the 2009 National Championship game against Texas as proof.
"Alabama's been pretty good about the other team getting down on about the three- or four-inch line and not scoring," Spurrier said. "You know, Florida was down there twice last week and did not get a touchdown in the game. And they were inside the one twice.
"Texas was inside the one the opening drive of the national championship game and didn't score," Spurrier continued. "So just cause you're down there close doesn't mean you're going to get a touchdown against Alabama. Those guys, they're not going to concede anything to you. To be in the game, we've got to score TD's if we can instead of kicking field goals from short range.
The Tide did the same to the Gamecocks in last season's 20-6 victory. Despite getting inside the Bama red zone, Carolina could only muster two field goals.
"Last year they were undefeated and everything and we were in the game and
didn't play all that great," Spurrier said. "We had some chances for touchdowns that we did not get, but we were actually in the game there until the fourth quarter. As I said, we only got beat by 14 I guess. But we didn't score touchdowns, we had three drives and got two field goals last year. Usually, if you're going to have a chance to upset a team, you've got to score touchdowns."
Spurrier doesn't think Bama does anything special down inside the five-yard line except stack up and hit you in the mouth.
"I don't know exactly the answer for that, except they're pretty tough around the 1-yard-line, the 1 or 2-yard-line," Spurrier said. "They get everybody up in there, that's for sure. They cover pretty well if you're trying to throw, also, I guess. Sometimes, against teams like this, you don't want to get to the 1-yard-line. You'd rather get to the 7 or 8 or something like that. Sometimes it's actually easier to score from that distance."
The biggest improvement of the Gamecock offense is the ability to score deep in their opponents' territory. The Gamecocks have scored in 15-of-16 attempts inside the red zone, putting the ball in the end zone 13 times. Spurrier gives most of that credit to Shawn Elliott, the offensive line coach.
"One thing that I do like about coach Elliott, our line coach, is he likes to stay spread out down there. That's what we've been doing and we've been a lot better at running the ball in, as most of you guys know, than we have in the past. Whether or not we can do it this week, we'll just have to find out, if we get down there and so forth. We're planning on getting down there. We're planning on it. We'll see how it goes."
The Gamecocks will be looking to break an impressive Alabama win streak. The Tide have won 19 straight games, dating back to a 31-17 loss to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. The Tide has an even bigger regular season winning streak, winning their last 29 regular season games beginning with a 34-10 victory over Clemson to open the 2008 season. Spurrier says the most impressive thing about the streak is their ability to win close games.
"They have some close games every now and then and they manage to pull all those out," Spurrier said. "The Auburn game at the end of last year was close for a while and obviously the Arkansas game this year. Arkansas had a chance. They were in position and Alabama got a couple of turnovers in the fourth quarter and ran the ball well to win that game. They haven't really just steamrolled every one, they have the ability to win close games throughout this entire stretch. As you know, Tennessee was kicking a field goal to try and win it last year and they blocked it. So they've done whatever was necessary to win the game."
Spurrier credits head coach Nick Saban and his coaching staff and their ability to recruit the best athletes in the country as the reason for Alabama's success.
"It's a testament to good coaching and good recruiting," Spurrier said. "Really, really
good athletes to start with and obviously, they've done an excellent job recruiting. I read the other day that one of the recruiting experts said Alabama and Florida are the two top recruiting schools in the nation, whereas Southern Cal used to be and maybe even Texas. I watched Texas against Oklahoma a little bit last Saturday, I don't know if you guys watched that game, but athlete-wise, I don't think Texas is close to Alabama right now. I just think Alabama's athletes compared to Texas right now is a pretty huge difference. Just strength and speed and so forth."
Spurrier knows his guys will have to play a flawless game to end Bama's winning streak, and says his guys will be ready and he knows Williams-Brice will be quite a hostile environment for the Tide.
"Our guys will be really excited, ready to go. I know our fans will be. Our fans get up for these kind of games and I think our team will also. So we're looking forward to improve on the play we had two weeks ago. We'll see if we can't tackle better, take care of the ball better and give ourselves a chance. Try to put ourselves in position, if we get a break or two, to pull an upset on them. That's our goal, to be very, very competitive and see if a good break or two can't happen for us as we go through the game."
Keys to Victory
Spurrier believes the biggest thing the Gamecocks must do is not give Alabama anything. That was not the case in 2009's loss to the Tide. After Chris Culliver took the opening kick-off all the way to the Gamecocks' 41-yard line. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Stephen Garcia was intercepted by Alabama's Mark Barron at the Alabama 23. Barron returned it 77 yards for the touchdown, the difference in the game until Mark Ingram's 4-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter.
"The keys are hopefully not give them anything," Spurrier said. "Don't give them anything, which didn't happen last year when we played them. I don't like to reminisce about last year but we threw one right to them and they scored early in the game and it was 13-6, gosh, fourth quarter. Our keys are to play best we can and try again not to give them anything. Play well on special teams, play well offense, defense and go from there."
Spurrier vs. Saban
Saturday's game will mark the 4th meeting between Spurrier - one of the greatest offensive minds in college fooball - and Nick Saban - one of the greatest defensive minds in college football.
"I guess we first coached against each other in 2000, 2001. Those were two of the real good offenses we had down there at Florida. We looked like we were a lot smarter than he was the first two games."
Spurrier's Gators defeated Saban's LSU Tigers in Saban's first season 41-9 in Gainesville. The following season was much of the same, with the Gators routing the Tigers 44-15 in Baton Rouge.
That was the last time the two met each other until last' season's 20-6 Alabama victory. Saban will be trying to even up the overall record between the two this Saturday.
"Recently, he was a lot smarter than I was last year, let's put it that way. Who knows who's going to be the smartest this year? Who knows who's going to be the smartest? I read something interesting in the paper the other day about the Ryder Cup golf matches. One writer said, ‘Whoever wins the Ryder Cup, that captain will be considered somewhere between John Wooden and Vince Lombardi.' And he said, ‘The loser will be considered like an SEC football coach after a loss.' He'll be the dummy. And that's just the way it is. And we all know that. As coaches, we all know that. And of course, sometimes you can win and still be a dummy. We've learned that recently, too, I guess. So anyway, that's part of coaching. The winners are smart and the losers are usually the guy looking for help somewhere."
Saban a DB guy
Spurrier believes that the defensive secondary is Saban's thing.
"I think that's certainly his thing," Spurrier said. "I think he enjoys coaching the DBs and linebackers. When I see some of their practice tape on TV, he's coaching the DBs, it seems like. But he's an overall good coach. He knows what's going on with everything throughout the team."
That will certainly be a key to watch in Saturday's game with Saban's DB's going up against Spurrier's WR's. The Gamecocks bring in the SEC's leading receiver, Alshon Jeffery, while the Tide have been susceptible to the pass this season. Spurrier says Alabama's DB's love to get up in your face and swipe the ball away.
"Obviously, one thing I think they do extremely well, and I was telling our receivers the other day watching tape, they run with you," Spurrier said. "They don't play behind and break on the ball. A lot of their coverages, they just stick right you and start running. Even if you are behind them, and the ball is coming, that defender is going to hit your arm right when it gets there. He's going to be breaking. They've had a lot of great hits like that, in the end zone.
"In the Florida game, they knocked it out," Spurrier continued. "May have had one interference there and so forth. Their DBs do a good job of really playing to the receivers. They get in their face and they jump into them and you're going to have to get open, and the quarterback's going to have to throw a good pass if he's going to catch it without getting hit while the ball's coming. That's one thing Nick coaches extremely well. If you watch their DBs play, they're usually pretty close to the guy they're covering and then swiping at the ball."
Spurrier believes the Bama secondary won't change much to cover Jeffery, but that's something he's going to have his eye on.
"Yeah, it'll be interesting to see if they just play against us like they do everybody else, which, actually, most teams do," Spurrier said. "They may run some kind of man-to-man with a safety over the top of Alshon. We did see that late in the game at Auburn, a little different scheme just for him. But other than that, most teams usually play their scheme of defense and go from there. But I got a feeling they'll know where
Alshon is most every play. We have thrown more of our downfield passes toward him. It could be important to get the other guys involved if we can a little bit more."
Garcia getting down
After fumbling the ball twice in the fourth quarter against Auburn, Garcia was pulled from the game. Spurrier criticized Garcia for going at defenders head-on, telling him just to get down on the ground without sliding either.
"I have, in my 30 years of coaching quarterbacks, I have never taught one to slide feet first. We have taught our guys to protect themselves, get what you can and get down. We try and get on the ground after you have made as much yardage as you can, find you a little spot and dive in there. And hopefully, Stephen can do that. I don't know if he can or not, to be honest with you, because he hasn't changed yet. But maybe we have done a poor job of coaching him not to go in there with his head down and his eyes closed. We've emphasized it as much as we possibly can and hopefully, he will protect the ball when he runs.
"Quarterbacks in most offenses now have to run the ball occasionally," Spurrier continued. "Both our quarterbacks are pretty good runners. But we must take care of the ball better. Right now, we've lost three fumbles all year, all by the same guy. That should not be happening as often as it has. We hope we can change it and time will tell."
Spurrier says other than the fumbles, he's been happy with the play of Garcia.
"We want Stephen to play well, and just take care of the ball and really, basically it's just fumbles that have been the problem," Spurrier said. "He's played pretty decently. But obviously he can't just run in there blindly and get hit hard and fumble, so we're going to try and get that corrected and go from there. Connor, he's ready to play too. We're hoping and believing that Stephen can take care of the ball just a little bit better."
Shaw to play?
Spurrier has made it clear that Garcia will start against the Tide and get most of the snaps as long as he's playing well, but he won't rule out Connor Shaw getting in the game at some point.
"We may have a play or two here and there that he gets in early," Spurrier said. "We may, we may not. Depends on how it goes."
Spurrier was happy with Shaw's two possessions at the end of the Auburn game, with the exception of the first interception.
"That was really the only one bad play," Spurrier said of the first interception. "As soon as he threw that one, I said, ‘Oh no.' Other than that, he scrambled around and threw the ball, made some plays, got hit hard one time, stayed in the pocket, took some hits. He played pretty well. The last play, Alshon had two hands on the ball and they knocked it out. Connor played well. We think he's going to be a real good player, and we don't know if he's quite ready yet or not, but we'll have to just see how it goes. We're all hoping that Stephen will play up to his potential and take care of the ball and then Connor will be ready when his turn comes."
Impressed with tight ends
With preseason starter Weslye Saunders off the team, some worried about the tight end position. The Gamecocks moved fullback Patrick DiMarco to play some at tight end, and Spurrier has been happy with his play. DiMarco is currently third on the team in receptions with seven for 46 yards.
"Yeah, Patrick's played well," Spurrier said. "He plays tight end, fullback, so we don't
have substitute when we're changing our formations and so forth. Patrick's played well and we believe he'll play well throughout the year."
Spurrier has also been happy with the blocking of Justice Cunningham, and credits the two-tight end sets as being the best formation for running the ball.
"Justice has done well, too," Spurrier said. "Yeah, Justice gives us another good tight
end in there and we've used that two tight end formation this year. That's probably one of our best running formations. Marcus probably has most of his yards when we have the two tight ends in there. So we try and use that as much as we can."
Gamecock defensive end Cliff Matthews has struggled some this season by his standards. After 47 tackles and seven sacks last season, Matthews has gotten off to a slow start this season with 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks through four games. Following Monday's practice, Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward said they were going to alter his shoulder brace.
"Cliff's played pretty well," Spurrier said. "Like he said the other day, 'I should
be playing better too. I should be making more plays.' He's wearing that brace on his shoulder, the trainer's going to loosen it up a little bit this week and get a little bit more mobility, grabbing guys and so forth. He's sort of been hampered down with that brace he's worn. Hopefully, that's going to free him up to get his hands going and so forth."
Some thought Matthews would get more attention from opposing offensive lines without Eric Norwood on the other side, but Spurrier says that hasn't been the case.
"I don't think so," Spurrier said. "I just think we've been playing against a good line last week that blocked just about all of our guys pretty well actually. ButCliff's playing well, he's getting pressure on the quarterback most of the time."
Going for second again
Spurrier, once again, will be going for his 107th SEC victory against the Tide. With Spurrier's next victory he will move into second place all-time in SEC victories behind Paul "Bear" Bryant.
"I really haven't thought about that," Spurrier said. "I was hoping we were going to get that over with at the Auburn game, but we didn't. We're not talking about or worrying about that right now. Hopefully we can win another conference game somewhere as we go through. But again, that's an individual thing that years from now, maybe it'll be fun to look back at. But right now, it's not a big deal.
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