Gamecocks Moving Foward

With last Saturday's historic win over the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the rear-view mirror, the South Carolina football team is preparing for Saturday's match-up with the Kentucky Wildcats. Defensive coaches and players met with the media following Monday night's practice.

The Alabama game is over. While questions swirl in Tuscaloosa over the performance of the then-#1 Crimson Tide, in Columbia it was "business as usual" Monday night. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week South Carolina football team is putting the biggest win in program history behind them and focusing on one thing; the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gamecocks travel to Lexington, KY Saturday night for a 6:00 P.M. showdown with the ‘Cats on ESPN2. The Gamecocks know that a loss to the Wildcats would be a monumental letdown.

"We've preached all year that if we win we're going to celebrate for 24 hours and if we lose we're going to mourn for 24 hours," Gamecock defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said following the team's practice Monday night. "So we're still going to take that same mentality and we're going to push them in practice and they understand that if they go out and lay an egg Saturday then the big win we had against Alabama doesn't mean anything."

Gamecock safety D.J. Swearinger said things have been different around campus the last two days.

"It is (different) because we beat the #1 team in the nation," Swearinger said. "We just have to forget about it but know that we have a certain amount of confidence that we can beat a lot of people and we can go far with this team."

Swearinger, who started in place of Akeem Auguste, had an effective game against the Tide. Swearinger tied Stephon Gilmore for a game-high nine tackles in the game and was credited with one quarterback hurry. That was good enough to keep him in the starting line-up.

"I thought he did well," Ward said. "D.J. tackled well, he was physical, and he did the things we thought he could do. He didn't have many mental errors as far as getting lined up so I felt like he played well."

Defensive tackle Travian Robertson said Swearinger's performance was no surprise for anyone.

"D.J. is a good player," Robertson said. "He loves to tackle and loves to be out there - so I know none of us were worried about him messing up."

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has already hinted that the Wildcats will run more out of the ‘wildcat' formation this week, something the Gamecocks struggled with in a 35-27 loss to Auburn three weeks ago.

"If you watched the Auburn film you'd put a quarterback in there that can run the ball," Ward said. "They would be smart to do that so I'm sure that's what they're going to do and that's what we're going to prepare for."

That means the Gamecock defense will be seeing a lot of Randall Cobb in the backfield Saturday night. Cobb, the wide receiver/quarterback/kickoff returner/punt returner/holder, is a dynamic player to say the least. In last week's 37-34 loss to Auburn, Cobb had four touchdowns - one passing, one receiving, and two running - and finished with 121 yards of total offense.

"He almost won the game for them single-handedly," Gamecock linebacker Tony Straughter said. "Cobb is a good offensive player. He's done a lot of things for them."

Straughter, who is starting due to Shaq Wilson's season-ending hamstring injury, has stepped up in Wilson's absence. Straughter has nine tackles on the season and returned a fumble 52 yards earlier in the season. Straughter says he's just doing the best he can to fill in for Wilson, something Wilson did last season when Rodney Paulk went down with a season-ending injury earlier in the year.

"It's horrible to hear one of our guys going down, but it's good to know there's a solid back-up," Straughter said. "Like Coach Johnson said, Shaq is the quarterback of the defense and every good offense has a good back-up at quarterback so I'm just trying to be that good back-up for Shaq."

Straughter will be one of the players that will have to play well to stop Cobb and the Wildcats ‘wildcat' offense. Cobb made his presence known in last season's 28-26 loss to the Gamecocks. Cobb finished with 154 total yards and two touchdowns, most coming late in the game as Kentucky mounted a furious comeback.

"We had a little time to watch it (tape) before practice started today," Swearinger said. "He's sort of like a (Dexter) McCluster from Ole Miss - not as quick - but they get him the ball a lot like McCluster."

Robertson says that the defense will be looking back at the Auburn tape to prepare for Cobb because the Wildcats run a lot of the same things the Tigers did.

"It's the same scheme," Robertson said. "He's a lot quicker (than Cam Newton) - he can scat - so we're just going to watch film and try and get a helmet on him. We missed a lot of tackles with Newton so the main thing we're going to focus on this week is tackling."

It will take the play and discipline the Gamecocks showed against the Tide to beat the Wildcats, not the type of play they showed against the Tigers.

"You've just got to stay disciplined and play your responsibilities," Ward said. "If we do that we'll be fine because the system has shown that it works."

Though the Wildcats enter the contest with an 0-3 record in the SEC and have lost 10 straight to South Carolina, the Gamecocks certainly cannot take the ‘Cats lightly.

"It's the SEC so every team is tough," Robertson said. "Their record doesn't show their toughness at all - they fight to win every game. They're going to fight to beat us so we're taking this game just like we did with Bama."

Though the Gamecocks have won 10 straight against Kentucky, it certainly has not been easy. seven of the 10 wins have been by a touchdown or less. The only exceptions were a 42-6 win in 2001, a 44-16 win in 2005, and a 38-23 win in 2007. Even in the blowouts, the margin of victory has decreased.

"We always have a head-to-head battle with Kentucky," Robertson said. "I've never seen a blowout so it's going to be a tough fight."

While Straughter says he didn't expect the Gamecocks to win such a high-magnitude game when he signed with the Gamecocks, he did expect to make history at South Carolina.

"To be honest, no I didn't (expect to beat a #1 team), but I did imagine us competing for an SEC Championship," Straughter said. "With this being my senior year, I'd love to compete for an SEC Championship and be part of the group that finally turns it around for Carolina and get over that 7-5 hump that we keep going through."

In order to compete for an SEC Championship, the Gamecocks must put the Alabama game behind them and beat Kentucky. While that remains to be seen, the coaches and players are saying all the right things.

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