A lot has been made of the play-calling in recent years at South Carolina under head coach Steve Spurrier. Spurrier vowed to be more involved in the play-calling and it has seemed to pay off. The Gamecocks are off to a 5-2 start and are in first place in the SEC East with a 3-2 record. The Gamecocks are in the top half of the SEC in offense, averaging 404 yards per game. Carolina is third in passing yards per game, averaging nearly 261 yards per game. However, after struggling in the second half in a 31-28 loss at Kentucky two weeks ago, Spurrier changed things up a bit. The Gamecocks blew a 28-10 halftime lead and only gained 85 yards of offense in the second half.
"I was doing most of it (play-calling) prior to the Vandy game," Spurrier said in his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. "I guess the second half against Kentucky was a little
discouraging with everything that happened. I decided a little changeup might be better for us."
Spurrier, who spent a lot of time last week helping out a pass defense that has struggled all season, didn't get to spend as much time as he normally does with quarterback Stephen Garcia and the offense. He felt it in the best interest to let someone who did spend the entire week with the offense call most of the plays.
"First of all, I really think the coach who spends most of the time with the quarterback probably should be the play-caller," Spurrier said. (Quarterback coach) GA (Mangus) was sort of the main guy there and him more than the rest of us, which was a little different than what we've been doing. I like that because he talks with Stephen in between plays and in between series, and so forth."
Spurrier, who was often seen outside the offensive huddle - and sometimes 10 yards away - prior to taking the field Saturday night against Vanderbilt, says he will insert a play at anytime he sees fit.
"I still had the sheet, inserted one (play) anytime, and so forth," Spurrer said. "That's how we're going to go right now. I called a lot of them, I didn't call all of them. We've got sort of a system there where we're all on the headset, and so forth."
Whatever system the coaches have used has worked so far this season. The Gamecocks are averaging 57 more yards and nine points per game than in 2009. It will take more of that if the Gamecocks want to meet their goal of playing for an SEC Championship in Atlanta in December.
Spurrier Moving Around
After allowing Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline to have a career day, passing for 349 yards and four touchdowns, Spurrier decided it was time for him to spend a little time with the defensive secondary last week.
"I spent a little bit of time on pass defense last week," Spurrier said. "Hopefully our pass defense is sound and we know what we're doing now. We were more in position. It was a little more simplified for the players. Vandy doesn't throw the ball as well as Kentucky. But still, our players had very few errors in assignment compared to the week before.
"Now I'm going to try to help out that punt return team a little bit," Spurrier continued. "I think we had minus yards on punt returns. That's pretty sad, minus yards on punt returns. We can't catch it and run forward a couple yards. We fair catch it and run backwards. That doesn't make sense. We're going to try to get a little better on punt returns."
Though Vanderbilt is considered as more of a running team than passing team, the Gamecocks pass defense was much better. They only allowed Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith to a 13-for-31 day passing for only 142 yards. That was a stark contrast for a defense that has allowed over 250 yards per game through the air.
Now Spurrier will try and help a punt return team that has been equally atrocious. After Ace Sanders' -4 return yards on three attempts last week, the Gamecocks are last in the conference in punt return average, averaging only 3.6 yards on 12 returns.
"We decided later in the week that we wanted to put Ace back there," Spurrier said. "I was for Ace early in the year, then Stephon, either one was fine with me. He caught everything. What we had to do was give him an opportunity to return the punts. Vandy, they covered better than we did and held up better than we did. Either they have better athletes on special teams than us or they're playing with more effort. One or the other. I don't know what it is but we need to hold up the other team and give our punt return guys a chance. I think we lost something like 150 or 160 yards in the punt exchange last week. In a close game, that can cost you."
Sanders is expected to continue returning punts this week and Bryce Sherman will return kicks to allow Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver to focus their attention on the defensive side of the ball.
Senior running back Brian Maddox has been used primarily as the back-up to Marcus Lattimore this season. Maddox has rushed for 231 yards on 40 carries (5.8 per carry) in 2010 with two touchdowns.
"Brian's played well," Spurrier said. "He's played well when he's been in there."
With Lattimore out for the Vanderbilt game with an ankle injury and Kenny Miles being ineffective, Maddox got his chance and he made it pay off. Maddox ran for a career-high 146 yards on a career-high 24 carries and scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown.
"When Brian got in there, he made some yards," Spurrier said. "He made some good runs up in there. Brian had a big game. He's ready to go."
With Lattimore looking like he will be back for the Tennessee game, Maddox may see a decrease in carries.
"Marcus is ready to go this week," Spurrier said. "Last night at practice, he rotated in with the other running backs. He's very close to 100 percent. He should be ready to go."
The Gamecocks return home this week after two weeks on the road to host the Tennessee Volunteers.
"We're looking forward, ball game here Saturday at 12:20," Spurrier said. "Tennessee
Volunteers coming in and it should be a big crowd. I think we've sold practically all our tickets. I know our fans will be ready to scream and yell for the Gamecocks."
The Vols are struggling this season, just 2-5 overall and the only SEC team without a conference win.
"Tennessee has had somewhat of a struggling year but they've looked very good at times," Spurrier said. "Their personnel on defense is as good as anybody we've played, really. Better than some teams. They seem to not play very well the second half, the entire team. But anyway, they're certainly very capable and we have to play well to beat these guys."
The Gamecocks have rarely beaten the Volunteers since joining the SEC in 1992. Carolina upset the Volunteers, 24-23, by coming up with a stop on a 2-point conversion at the end of the game. That would prove to be the beginning of the end of then-head coach Johnny Majors.
The Vols then hired Phillip Fulmer as head coach and the Vols did not lose to the Gamecocks until 2005, when first-year coach Steve Spurrier took the Gamecocks to Knoxville and came away with the first victory ever in Knoxville, 16-15.
The third - and to this point, last - victory against the Vols came two years ago. In Fulmer's final year in Knoxville, Carolina easily beat the Vols, 27-6.
"History always factors into everything a little bit, not completely," Spurrier said. "We're preparing like for most all of our games this year. We're not trying to overhype any one game, we're just trying to get ready to improve and play a lot better than we did last week."
This Tennessee team may be even worse than the team that came into Williams-Brice Stadium two years ago. The Vols are 94th in the country in points per game (21.4) and 83rd in points against (29.1).
"Tennessee's a little bit in a down slump, as several teams are," Spurrier said. "But we can't worry about that. They may not be in a down slump when they come in here at 12:20 Saturday. They'll be ready to play, give it their best shot. We've got to play well to beat ‘em. I mean, we had trouble at times blocking those Vandy guys. I know we'll have trouble blocking these guys. That ball can bounce funny ways, as we all know. We've got to be smart and careful with it and be ready to play, go play. We'll toss it around and throw it up at Alshon and hand it off to Marcus and give our guys a chance to go play the game."
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