Spurrier: Vanderbilt Has USC's Full Attention

After enjoying a much needed bye week, the Gamecocks are now preparing to engage the crucial second half of their 2006 schedule. The unenviable six game stretch includes four match ups with teams currently ranked in the AP top 15, and it begins with a conference road showdown against a much improved Vanderbilt Commodore squad.

Coach Steve Spurrier addressed the media in his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon, and he talked about the Gamecocks upcoming road match up with the Commodores this weekend.

Spurrier opened by praising the surprising Commodores, who are fresh off a monumental upset of the Georgia Bulldogs between the hedges this past weekend and have competed well in every game this year. "Vanderbilt, as we know, had the big weekend last week (at Georgia). It did not surprise any of us that has been watching SEC ball this year. I think Alabama beat them by three points; they lost a heartbreaker to Ole Miss when they had like five turnovers with over 400 yards, and they were a field goal away from beating Arkansas. They are a good team, a very good team," said Spurrier. He then acknowledged the job that Coach Bobby Johnson and his staff have done with the Vanderbilt program over the past several years, as he said, "Of course, Bobby Johnson and his staff have done an excellent job there. They probably coach as well as any coaching staff in the conference to tell you the truth. Their players make very few mistakes, it seems like they are always in position and they play with tremendous effort."

Despite being 2-0 on the road this season, nothing has seemed to come easy for the Gamecocks. Carolina struggled to pull away in road wins at Mississippi State and Kentucky earlier in the year, and they came within ten yards of potentially losing at home to I-AA Wofford. For that reason, the Gamecocks can not afford to overlook Vanderbilt or any other opponent, according to Coach Spurrier. "(Playing Vanderbilt) is going to be a very difficult game, like all of ours are, if we are going to go in there and come out with a win… We are looking forward to the game this week."

In past years, the Vanderbilt crowd has not served as much of a home field advantage for the Commodores, but after the Commodores landmark victory over the Bulldogs this past weekend, Coach Spurrier expects to see the Vandy faithful come out in full force on Saturday. "The Vandy crowd I'm sure will be alive. I keep telling our coaches and our guys it is going to be loud out there. I really believe all the Commodore fans that have been in the background will come out for this one. Any time you have a big victory like they just had, increases hope that they can be one of the best teams in the conference," said Spurrier.

Facing what will, in all likelihood, be a boisterous crowd on Saturday, the Gamecocks will hope to continue their success on the road that has seen them win four consecutive conference road games dating back to last season. Spurrier talked about the Gamecocks winning formula for success on the road, as he said, "You don't change a whole lot, just get prepared to go play. If the crowd noise doesn't bother you and you can stay onside, our guys have done that better than when we first got there, I think it was just the Auburn game last year that we jumped offside a few times. We look forward to going on the road."

With losses by Georgia and Florida over the weekend, South Carolina is statistically right back in the running for the SEC Eastern Division crown, but Spurrier warned that, while it is exciting, the Gamecocks full focus will need to be on Vanderbilt this week. "When it is all over with we will find out how good any of us are, how good Vandy is, Florida, Tennessee and so forth. (There is) a lot of season left, (and it is) sort of exciting that so many teams have a chance. We are not completely out of it, but we certainly don't need to worry about anything but Vanderbilt. We are looking forward to the game this week," said Spurrier.

Spurrier claims a perfect 13-0 record against the Commodores throughout his career, and the Gamecocks have won six consecutive contests against Vanderbilt dating back to 2000, but Spurrier insists that this Commodore squad is much improved from past years. "They have been pretty good all year. Three of their four losses have been within a touchdown. If a play or two would have gone their way they could have beaten Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas. And they lost at Michigan. They have been competitive the entire year and will probably be very competitive the remainder of the year," said Spurrier. The Ball Coach then went on to comment on how the 2006 Commodores stack up against the 2005 squad that fought the Gamecocks to the wire in Columbia last season. "Their offense made a lot of yards against everybody last year ,and they still are making a bunch of yards. I think their defense is a little bit stronger, similar scheme and such but maybe a little more active than the Vandy defense last year."

Spurrier closed by stating that the Gamecocks primary concern right now is to continue improving week to week and work towards playing their best ball against the Commodores this weekend. "We really don't have a bunch of concerns other than trying to get better each week, trying to improve and learn the game a little better, all those kinds of things. Who knows what is going to happen when the game kicks off, but (we) expect a down to the wire game."

Other Notes:

Spurrier Thanks Fans: Spurrier opened his Tuesday press conference by praising the South Carolina fans who attended the Auburn game a few weeks ago for helping to create a truly electric atmosphere. Spurrier stated that the atmosphere of that contest had a direct impact on the recent commitment of a big time recruit to the Gamecocks. "I just want to mention, since I get to send a direct message to our fans all the time, I want to say thanks for the atmosphere of the Auburn game. Our fans are doing their part in building a championship program here… The part that they play in creating a big-time environment at our stadium is very important to us, and I appreciate all they do," said Spurrier.

Rice Remains Ready: When asked about the drop in production from Sidney Rice this season, Spurrier stated that he has not put his finger on one particular reason for the decrease, but Rice remains focused and ready nonetheless. "His numbers are down, and that is just sort of the way it has happened. I don't have a particular answer for it. Obviously our goal is to win the game, our goal is to not to necessarily pad stats for any players. He had the one big game but that has been it. I don't have the answer for what has happened except that we are not a great drop-back pass team… He has been covered a little bit more this year than he did in one-on-one coverages. It's not all the balls not coming to him, some time he hasn't gone up and got it like he did last year. I think it is a combination of things but he is ready to go. He has had excellent passes. Hopefully he, and Kenny McKinley can help us try to beat Vanderbilt," said Spurrier.

All About The Bounces: Spurrier reminisced about the 2005 season, and how the Gamecocks had several balls bounce their way in victories over Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas. He then noted that the bounces have not been as favorable through the first half of this season, but the Gamecocks have still had their chances in losses to Georgia and Auburn. "We got some good calls last year, we got some good turnovers at the right time, we made some fourth and one stops, things like that kept happening for us last year. Somehow or another we beat some teams and we still made a lot of errors in the games. You always think you have to play close to perfect to upset a team, but we had a lot of errors in the Arkansas and Tennessee games. The Florida game we played with no turnovers and (that was) probably a big reason we won that one (along with) red-zone scoring. We were 5-for-5 against Florida with four touchdowns and a field goal. Auburn we were 1-for-4, Georgia we were 0-for-3. That's what it comes down to."

Remembering Newton's Injury: Syvelle Newton is approaching the one year anniversary of his tragic achilles injury against the Commodores last season, and Coach Spurrier relived the events of that day on Tuesday afternoon. "The way it happened, you didn't see anything. We thought he maybe sprained his ankle, twisted his ankle and of course they had to help him off the field. Everyone was trying to congratulate him and he was, `Whoa, something is wrong down there.' He had like a burning sensation and they told us he tore his Achilles and that put him out for the year. Amazingly, when Dr. Guy did the surgery, we asked if he could come back and he said that he had a chance. Syvelle did an excellent job rehabbing and doing what the doctors asked him to do. He is very close to where he was last year," said Spurrier.

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