Press Conference Notebook: Still no starter

Steve Spurrier is still not sure who the starting quarterback will be when his twelfth-ranked South Carolina football team takes the field Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to take on the East Carolina Pirates. All he knows is that both Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw will play and both will play often.

Fans should not be worried nor surprised that both quarterbacks will play. Prior to the 2010 season opener against Southern Miss, Spurrier handled the situation the same way.

"They'll both play in the first half," Spurrier said in his press conference prior to the 2010 opener. "We want that to happen and we'll go from there."

Shaw had put up better numbers throughout fall camp last season and had earned the right to play in the opener. Garcia got the start and Shaw did play, but it was clear who was going to be the starter the remainder of the season.

2011 has been Déjà vu for the quarterback position. Shaw had an opportunity to take the job in the spring with Garcia sitting out after yet another suspension. Shaw failed to do that and the duo entered fall camp battling for the position. Shaw has had better numbers in most of the scrimmages, but neither has emerged as the clear leader.

"We plan on playing both quarterbacks in the game," Spurrier said during his first weekly press conference Tuesday. "Everyone wants to know who'll start. We'll announce that later in the week. It's not a big deal who'll start."

Spurrier seems to feel a little bit more confident about both his quarterbacks than he did a year ago, where he said they were doing "okay."

"They're both improved," Spurrier said. "Competing against each other has made both of them better. I'm really impressed with both of these guys. We've gotten to the point that our passing game will be improved. We'll see how the season plays out."

Despite Garcia's troubled past, Spurrier contends that the controversy this season is based solely on the performance of Garcia in Atlanta last year in the SEC Championship game and Chick-fil-A Bowl. Garcia threw five interceptions and only two touchdowns - both in the SEC Championship game - and threw for only 413 yards.

"It was based completely on the performance of Stephen, maybe, the last couple of games. His performance was not good enough, in my opinion, for us to say he's our quarterback next year. In my opinion, we needed to say, ‘Hey, we're going to have some competition there,' and that's what we're going to have. And we're having it, and we're still having it. Whoever we think has played the best in the preseason, me and coach Mangus, but I'll make the final call obviously, who will go out there first."

Spurrier continues to contend that he has seen a legitimate change in his fifth-year quarterback for the first time since he arrived on campus.

"He's a new person, he really is," Spurrier said. "He's doing things differently. That's all history. We're starting fresh, and it's all based on performance from here on out. I think he'll stay away from those transgressions he's had in the past. We believe he's a different person now."

While it's still uncertain who will be taking snaps from center T.J. Johnson on Saturday night, it's no surprise who will be standing beside Garcia or Shaw in the backfield. Reigning Freshman of the Year and All-American Marcus Lattimore will be in the backfield and will get as many touches as it takes.

"The amount of time Marcus plays depends on the score of the game," Spurrier said. "If it's a close game all the way through, he's read to carry it 30 to 40 times like he did last year."

Lattimore has not seen much action in preseason scrimmages, only running the ball twice in the four scrimmages, but the coaches have said that he'll be ready to handle the load Saturday night.

"He's ready to go," Spurrier said. "He's gone through all the practices. We come to try and win the game. That's what you come to the ballpark to do. After that if you're ahead a little bit you let the backup guys play. If we need to give it to him 40 times to beat ECU, we'll give it to him 40 times."

After trying out at safety due to lack of depth, Kenny Miles is back on offense and will be the primary back-up with freshman Shon Carson behind Miles.

"He's on offense," Spurrier said of Miles. "That was just a one day, see if he could pick something up. Our safeties struggled the practice before, I thought maybe, just maybe, but that wasn't a good idea. He's the backup. If something would happen to Marcus, he's our guy. Shon is an excellent runner with the ball and he'll be in the game, also. We've got to sort of pick our spots, put Shon in there. Shon's a very good running back. So, hopefully, all three of them will get in the game a little bit."

Handling expectations

South Carolina enters the season ranked twelfth in the country, the highest pre-season ranking the Gamecocks have ever had. That has led to high expectations, and even National Championship talk.

"We've gotten high expectations," Spurrier said. "A lot of people are picking us to do well. Some are not picking us to do very well, which is OK. We have to earn it on the field and go from there. But our guys are looking forward to it."

In the past, when expectations have been raised the team has not handled it well. The coaches have been doing their best to tamper the expectations and the team has handled it well so far.

"I can assure you the coaches are still yelling and screaming as if we were picked No. 50 in the country, or whatever," Spurrier said. "That's our job, push these guys as hard as we can and not let them get too comfortable about everything. We're trying to do that. We haven't noticed that our players are acting like they're hot stuff, and certainly the coaches it's up to us to make sure they don't think they are. We're just trying to push on, and we're really not talking about preseason hype, just trying to play our best to win a ballgame this week, and improve before the next one. That's what we're trying to do."

Replacing DiMarco

One of the more under-hyped battles has been the replacement of Patrick DiMarco at fullback. The fullback position doesn't receive a lot of attention, but is very important to an offense's success. Dalton Wilson and Matt Coffee have been battling for the position, a battle that Wilson has won.

"Dalton Wilson is a good solid fullback," Spurrier said. "He's a player that deserves a scholarship and he's still a walk-on. That's sort of the nature sometimes for sports. Some walk-ons are probably more deserving than some that are on (scholarship). He's a starting fullback and can play tight end in there. He's a good player."

Tight end Justice Cunningham will play in the backfield at times as well.

Big year expected for Taylor

After bursting on the scene in his first collegiate game at NC State two seasons ago, forcing a fumble and blocking a punt, Taylor earned first and second All-SEC honors in 2010. Taylor recorded 46 tackles, seven and a half sacks, recovered two fumbles, and scored a touchdown on an interception against Tennessee. Much like Lattimore, Taylor hasn't played a whole lot in the preseason.

"Devin's done pretty well," Spurrier said. "Again, he's not played a lot like Melvin and Travian, they don't play a lot in the scrimmages. But we think Devin's ready to go."

Perhaps most importantly for this week is the nine deflected passes and 11 quarterback hurries that Taylor had last season.

"He needs to knock some balls down this week," Spurrier said. "Look for him to hopefully get some hands up, along with the other guys. This is a passing team, that's one thing about it. We know they're a passing team."

Butler impressing Spurrier

New special team's coach John Butler is already impressing his boss before the season has even begun. Butler has quickly made some changes on special teams.

"I'm impressed with what all has happened in practice, but again, we got to go do it in a game," Spurrier said. "But I know that some guys who were starters on special teams last year are not starters anymore. Hopefully we got our best athletes out there and coach Butler is very impressive. Enthusiastic, he has a plan. We do it over and over and over again, and you guys that watched practice the first couple of weeks, you'll know we spent as much time as probably about anybody on special teams. Hopefully it'll pay off for us."

Clifford injury

Quarterback Andrew Clifford was injured earlier this week when he fell off his scooter and hit his head. Clifford had gone out to get a pizza and was trying to steer the scooter with one hand.

"From what I understand, he was trying to carry his pizza and drive his scooter one-handed, not real smart," Spurrier said. "He sort of fell off, and hit his head. I think somebody saw him unconscious and they got him to the hospital and he's got some stitches in his head and a concussion. So he's been resting. He's out for two or three weeks, whatever, I don't know. Hopefully that was a lesson for all of our guys who drive scooters."

Shell likely to play

Freshman tackle Brandon Shell has had to overcome some obstacles since arriving on campus, recovering from shoulder surgery prior to arriving on campus and had a heat-related injury early on in fall camp. Shell has worked through both and will likely be on the field Saturday night.

"Brandon has done very well," Spurrier said. "Brandon was actually back the next day from that little heat/dizziness and so forth. Our trainers acted very swiftly and did a super job getting that under control. Certainly, we learned a lot as coaches, strength coaches, about the heat factor and we've always got to be concerned. We haven't had anything close to an issue since then. But Brandon's about ready to go."


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