This is the biggest game in school history. This was the biggest win in school history. This is the best season ever. This school is finally turning the corner.
Those are some of the biggest cliches in the sports world. Those cliches have been used at times during the 2010 season at South Carolina. Friday's match-up with Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl is not as big as the SEC Championship game or even the game to determine the SEC East champion against Florida, and a win over the Seminoles would not be as big as the win over Alabama. For several reasons, however, Friday's game is vital if the Gamecocks hope to continue turning the corner in the ultra-competitive SEC.
"Oh, you never reach where you're trying to go," Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday afternoon. "We did accomplish some firsts this year. If we're fortunate enough to get 10 wins, we'd be tied for first with one other team in school history. Eastern Division. Beating Clemson back to back. Beating Alabama. We've had some really good games."
The Gamecocks have looked good in their nine wins. The Gamecocks have won all nine games by 11 or more points, used a dominating defense in wins over Georgia, Florida and Clemson, and used a high scoring offense in wins over Southern Miss, Alabama, and Tennessee.
In three of their four losses, they resembled everything but a college football team. Carolina blew a 28-10 halftime lead against Kentucky and were dominated by Arkansas and Auburn in the SEC Championship game. It is that inconsistency that has many wondering which Gamecock team will show up.
"Unfortunately, we've had some sorry ones, too," Spurrier said. "We're not any big, dominant team right now. I'd love to have about six guys make preseason All-SEC before the season starts some year. They'd say, ‘Them guys are loaded over there at South Carolina.' But that hasn't happened yet. We're still in the process of building, recruiting and trying to put a really, really strong team out there. But this team, like I said, has played really, extremely well. We've maximized the talent on our team in a lot of games this year. And in some games we didn't play well at all. This has been a very good year for us thus far. Hopefully we can finish."
If the Gamecocks want to stay atop the SEC East in 2011 recruiting is key. As recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer mentioned after Monday's practice, a bowl game is a great way to get your team out there during the dead period of college football. It's also key to head into recruiting season with momentum. Following the humiliating loss to Auburn and the last two bowl appearances, another loss in a bowl game could have a negative impact on the 2011 class. With guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Lateek Townsend, and Sheldon Royster still out there among others a win over the Seminoles would be huge.
"The last two (bowl) games we thought we were ready to compete but sometimes if maybe your
offensive line and your quarterback has a tough day and your defense plays so-so - we didn't play
terrible defense I don't think the last two bowl games but we just got beat by teams that were
much better than us those two days," Spurrier said. "We thought we were ready to play but the way we played it didn't appear we were. But, anyway, we have no excuses and we are looking forward to the game here Friday night."
If the Gamecocks want to beat FSU, the biggest key will be running back Marcus Lattimore. In the four losses Lattimore rushed for 226 yards, an average of just 57 yards per game. In the nine wins Lattimore has rushed for 972 yards, an average of 108 per game. If Lattimore gets going, odds are the Gamecocks will win.
"That's just sort of the way our team is built," Spurrier said. "Our pass protection, at times, is not real great. Sometimes the quarterback gets sacked a lot. Last year, as you all know - sometimes bad things happened when we tried to throw 30 or 40 times a game. Probably the Georgia game, when we started to hand the ball to Marcus over and over again, and found out he can break tackles and run up in there for about 8 yards, seemed like. We got an early lead on them and our defense was playing super. That's when you said, ‘Man, that might be a pretty good formula.' We'd run it and let our defense play and special teams and throw when we needed to. You obviously can't run every play. Alshon Jeffery's had an All-American season at wide receiver. We're better off if we can get a chance to run it 40 or 50 times and throw it 15 or 20 times. That's what our team's best built to do."
Joining Joe Morrison and the 1984 team as the only two teams to reach the 10-win plateau is a big deal to Spurrier and his players.
"It's very important, very important if we could somehow or another get 10 wins but that would be a byproduct of us playing well," Spurrier said. "We have already talked about it. We talked about trying to win the SEC. We also talked about winning the Eastern Division. We accomplished one of them. I think you have to talk about it briefly but to achieve it you have to go out and play the game and play it very well so that's what we're trying to concentrate on right now through the end of the game Friday night, what we can do to give ourselves the best chance to beat FSU."
One of the intriguing match-ups will be the chess match between the Gamecock offense and Seminole defense, where there is some family ties. Florida State defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, is the younger brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. Before Bob took the job at Oklahoma he was defensive coordinator under Spurrier at Florida.
Spurrier says he doesn't have much of a personal connection with Mark, but Mark worked with Steve Spurrier, Jr. at Arizona under the third of the Stoops brothers, Mike.
"Mark's actually got his own personality into the defense," Spurrier said. "Mark actually coached with my son, Steve Jr., at Arizona (for) a year. They go back. They've maintained contact. I think they've got each others' cell numbers and all that kind of stuff. They're good friends. It'll be sort of neat going against Mark. Of course, Mark went against his brother, Bobby, earlier this year. So, that was a little unique experience there. But after the game starts, you know, it's our team, their team. We're all shooting for the same thing."
Players Staying Out of Trouble
With the rising trend of athletes getting into trouble across the country during bowl preparations in recent years, the Gamecock football players have been on their best behavior this season. Not only have all the players been cleared to play academically, they've been following the rules as well.
"We've had a good week thus far," Spurrier said. "All of our players have been pretty much well-behaved. We have had no curfew violators, so everything is on schedule. We had a pretty good practice yesterday at the Atlanta Falcon practice dome up there, all the way up in Flowery Branch, which is about 40, 45 miles from here and then we are here in the Georgia Dome the rest of the week. So, looking forward to the game and hopefully our team will play very well. We
didn't play very well the last time we were in here we know, but we're going to try to finish up our year as strongly as we can against a very good Florida State team."
Chisolm Will Try to Go
Starting guard Garrett Chisolm, who suffered a knee injury earlier in bowl preparations, will likely give it a go Friday. Chisolm did some conditioning with the team on Monday and returned to practice Tuesday.
"He is going to run around and try to do a little more today. He hasn't done anything yet. He has a
sprained knee, the ligament is not torn completely. I've got a feeling he'll suit up Friday night and give it his best shot and see what he can do."
If Chisolm is unable to go, guard Rokevious Watkins will move to Chisolm's side of the line and Terrence Campbell will take Watkins' place.
Spurrier Impressed by Ponder
When a former Heisman-winning quarterback and offensive mastermind is impressed with a quarterback, he must be pretty good. That is exactly what Spurrier says about Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
"I think he's a tremendous talent," Spurrier said. "Yeah, I like Christian Ponder. He can run around, too. That's why I don't think there's a huge difference when their quarterbacks are in there. They can both go. Nowadays, if your quarterback can't run, it's unusual almost. He's a very good player, Christian Ponder. He's had a tremendous career there."
Lanning Looking to Go Out with a Bang
Spencer Lanning has been tremendous for the Gamecocks this season. Lanning is 16-of-23 in field goals with a long of 51 yards. of the seven misses, five were 40 yards or longer.
He's also punted the ball well in 2010. He has 52 punts with an average of 44 yards with a long of 58. He has 11 kicks of 50+ yards and has put 18 inside the 20-yard line, including the beauty against Clemson that landed at the five and rolled across the field and out of bounds just before hitting the pylon.
"He was voted a captain, probably, because of his summer conditioning workouts, year-round and all that," Spurrier said. "He's a great, wonderful team player. Excellent punter. His kicking has been very good. Of course, I think his best games were the Florida and Clemson games. He made six of seven field goals in those games. Several of them were 40-yarders, I know. We're going to miss Spence. Hopefully Jay Wooten can fill in the kicking next year, maybe even the punting. Spencer Lanning has been a very solid player for us the past two or three years."
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