South Carolina has not quite where they want to be yet. Sure they have achieved most of their goals - beating Alabama, beating Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida, beating arch-rival Clemson, and winning their first SEC East Championship. They have an opportunity to achieve their biggest goal Saturday when they take on #1 Auburn for the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
"This is obviously the goal - to win the SEC, not just to go to Atlanta," Spurrier said. "We have a chance. We have a chance this year. We know that and our guys know that. The important thing is our players set lofty goals this year. They set goals a lot of people maybe would have laughed at at the beginning of the season. We were picked fourth(third) in the East. That's why you play football."
There's not many people outside of each fanbase that expected Auburn and South Carolina to win their division. Most were expecting to see a third straight game between the last two National Champions in Alabama and Florida, but neither team lived up to their lofty expectations.
"Alabama was picked first in the nation and ended up fourth in the West," Spurrier said. "They have a heckuva team but lost three games. It can happen. Florida was picked to win our division but had a difficult year. We're excited to be there."
Saturday will mark the second match-up of the season between the Gamecocks and the Tigers. The Gamecocks traveled to Auburn in September, held a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter only to see the Tigers win 35-27. The Gamecocks are one of three teams that held the lead against Auburn entering the fourth quarter, but the Tigers have shown tremendous resolve all season. Just ask Alabama
"If you play a team with the best offense in the SEC and one of the best in the country - which is Auburn - you don't say, 'Well we can run three times and punt' the way we did last week the entire second half," Spurrier said. "We have to keep trying to move the ball and trying to score anytime you play a real good offensive team. Auburn has come from behind four or five games pretty bigtime to win, especially last week. To come back behind 24-0 against Alabama, that's sort of amazing but they did it."
It's always been said that it's tough to beat the same team twice in the same season, but Spurrier says there really will be no advantage for either team when they step on the field Saturday.
"I don't think it's a big deal," Spurrier said. "I know they've done studies on the game, and I've been involved with losing twice and winning twice, and I've also been involved with losing and winning. Obviously if you win the second one, that's the most important one. We watched the tape of our first game with auburn, and I said now that we won the division and they won the division, the loss is not as important. We're still in the same position. We're in about as good of shape as we can expect to be."
If there is one advantage for the Gamecocks it's the fact that Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton caught them by surprise with his long strides and speed.
"We have to tackle him and maintain our position," Spurrier said. "He's an excellent cutter with the ball. He can juke a guy. You won't get a hard shot at him at all. He knows how to get down and forward. He's a power runner yet can sidestep you in a heartbeat."
The Gamecocks will be making their first appearance in the Championship game, as all the previous appearances were by Florida, Georgia, or Tennessee.
"We all know the significance," Spurrier said. "We all know it hasn't happened before, but that won't help us win the game talking about that. We're trying to talk about how we need to play it to give ourselves the best chance to be successful in the game. Wishing it's going to happen is not going to help us beat these guys. We have to play our game, play our brand of ball, get our best players involved and give our team the best chance to be successful and play the entire night."
Though some so-called experts said Carolina would never compete for an SEC Championship, Spurrier maintains that the reason he came to South Carolina was for a game like this.
"I didn't think if I would or wouldn't," Spurrier said. "I thought we would some day here. You have to believe you have a shot at it. It worked out this year. We had some good fortune. Florida and Georgia didn't have their typical years, and Tennessee was down a bit I guess. We have a good team. We've not won a lot of squeakers at all. I think our closest margin of victory was 11 points against Georgia. We've played well in our wins. In our losses we've not had good games. We need to have one of those real good games and sometimes hope your opponent doesn't have a real good game."
Though the Gamecocks fully expect to win this game and will find no joy in losing, just the opportunity to play in the Georgia Dome is why these players decided to come to Carolina.
"We're thrilled with the opportunity to go compete for the SEC Championship," Spurrier said.
Yes, Stephen Garcia has had his left arm in a sling this week. Spurrier maintains that it's all precautionary and that Garcia will definitely be ready to go Saturday night.
"His left shoulder got banged up in the game the other night," Spurrier said. "Obviously he went ahead and finished it, but our trainer, Clint Haggard, felt like it was best to rest him. I think he'll rest today. I think tomorrow they'll let him go throw and run and so forth. He should be fine by Saturday night."
Garcia, after fumbling twice in the fourth quarter that led to Auburn's 14 points, was pulled in the first contest. Garcia returned against Alabama the following game and has not looked back since.
"It was a major step in him learning how to run with the ball," Spurrier said. "As all of you know he has the tendency to duck his head and hasn't done it since. Maybe he said (after the game), "If I duck my head and fumble, maybe I'm coming out of the game." That was for his safety and the benefit of our team. That was what we were trying to emphasize to him there was protect the ball and get down. He's done that well since. Maybe coming out the game helped him a bit in that area of carrying the ball. Other than that he's been solid in throwing the ball away and taking care of it. We've had few sacks whereas last year he would go down with it. He's managed to take care of the ball better and avoid sacks."
Lattimore's Impressive season.
Everyone knew that Marcus Lattimore was going to be a good player at South Carolina. Very few expected him to be this good this soon. Lattimore has rushed for 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns, but Spurrier says he's the same guy now that he was when he arrived on campus.
"Marcus is a very even-keeled person," Spurrier said. "He doesn't have a lot of big highs and lows. You don't see him in wild celebrations. He scores, flips the ball to the ref, gets a high five from his teammates and he's ready to keep playing. He's a very mature young man."
Lattimore, who has carried the ball 232 times, does not let the ball hit the ground. Spurrier credits that to his running style.
"Marcus has strong hands obviously and protects himself," Spurrier said. "Normally they don't get a hard hit on him. Normally he has a way of protecting the ball. He knows how to hold it correctly and get it close to his body."
Other than his 30-yard performance against Arkansas, Lattimore's worst two games came against the two Tiger teams. Lattimore had just 33 yards against Auburn and only 48 against Clemson.
"We have to give him running room this week," Spurrier said. "In the first game (against Auburn) we didn't give him much, and last week wasn't much. It was some tough sledding. Hopefully we can have a better plan maybe and block better for him to create running lanes because we struggled last week."
This week is the main reason Lattimore came to Carolina; to play on the big stage and take his home-state school to their first SEC Championship Game appearance.
"Some kids come in and want everyone to look at them," Spurrier said. "Marcus is a complete team player and so is Alshon. He wants to win some championships before they leave here. They like the big stage and obviously we're going on the biggest stage in college football. I know it is this weekend. Maybe the national championship game some will say is bigger, but for us in the SEC this is as big as it gets. You can still say the national game has to be a tiny bit bigger than this game, but all of us that have been in the SEC some time knows this is about the biggest stage in college football that you have a realistic chance to get to."
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