Spurrier Knows What it Takes to Down Dawgs
South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier is a rarity in college football when it comes to his public pronouncements about his team and their opponents. Name your negative connotation; he has often been taken as arrogant or worse, when actually, he's just telling it like he sees it, good or bad.
An Atlanta reporter who attended his Tuesday press conference earlier this week claims Spurrier is no different than when he was at Florida, except the team he is putting down is his own, rather than the opponent. The perspective was not surprising for a reporter who mostly covers the Georgia program, whose fans this week voted in a poll in his newspaper, and they selected Spurrier by a large margin as the opposing coach they most hate.
A more accurate picture was probably framed Thursday night as he talked about the Georgia program in contrast to his own program at this juncture.
Spurrier talked about the Bulldogs' 2006 season and the level of their program: "Georgia, they beat Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl; they beat Auburn and Georgia Tech; yet somehow lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky last year. If they'd won those two games, they might have been in a BCS game. They had a little down period, and then they regrouped and won four in a row.
"(They are a) good team, they play well. A football school that has a rich tradition like Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama - programs that are used to winning - once they get a coach in there that rekindles that spirit, it sort of keeps repeating itself year after year. They don't have a lot of real down years.
"That's what we're trying to do here at South Carolina. We're trying to build a football program where the players really play hard,(where) they know their assignments, they're well disciplined, and they take a lot of pride in being the best they can be.
"So far, I haven't quite got that taught here, and our coaches haven't got it taught, and our players haven't done it yet. But we're trying to get there, and hopefully it won't take a lot longer. We need to understand that to compete at a high level, what's necessary. We haven't quite done it yet. We had some close losses last year. We looked at those games, and we see those guys don't quite know what it takes to win. Tipped balls off each other, just little things, a careless penalty here and there, so many of our losses are just a play or two here and there that losers make. The winners, they don't beat themselves. We haven't quite done it yet. We need to coach better. I'm not blaming it on our players. It's our entire team that needs to perform at a higher level. We've got a chance this Saturday to see if we can do that."
After pointing out the team's deficiencies thus far in his tenure, he also praised his coaching staff: "They're coaching their hearts out. I think we've got excellent coaches: Tyrone Nix, Ron Cooper, Shane Beamer, Brad Lawing; but we've got to get our guys to play the game the way it has to be played if we're going to compete for an SEC Championship."
Spurrier's key to winning this week's game is simple: "Don't let them run the ball down our throats for 250 yards or so...If we can keep them under 150 (yards) that would give us a great chance I think. The biggest key is stopping them from running the ball up and down the field."
"Defensively," Spurrier continued, "we've done nothing yet to say that we're a better defense than what we've been in the past." He cited his concern over the lack of turnovers created by his team last week, but then he found some positives on defense as well: "We did have some goal line stands; they only got 14, if we can hold our opponents to 14, and hopefully our offense will make enough plays to get more than that. As a defense, to have pride and to think you're a tough bunch of guys, you can't let the other team run up and down the field. To play good defense, it's no secret, stop the run, and make them throw the ball, see if they can do it. Our linebackers have had one interception in the last two years. We're going to see this week if we can cause some turnovers and make something happen."
Spurrier's game plan doesn't end with just limiting the Bulldogs' running game, but includes his team being the one putting up the big rushing yards numbers, not Georgia. "In football, usually the team that rushes for the most yards wins the game. If you can stop the run, you've got a chance to beat the other team. I don't care if he throws for 300 yards. If they consistently run the ball down your throat, it makes it tough. I've always tried to be more of a running coach, though people think we're a passing team, because we've been fortunate to throw for a lot of touchdowns. Our good teams, our championship teams, were teams that ran the ball. If you can stop the run, you have a chance to be a winner."
The Head Ball Coach went out of his way to chastise the media for the way it covered the Emmanuel Cook arrest story. "Emmanuel Cook, he was in a car, a guy showed him a handgun, they both got arrested, headlines all over the country – ‘Weapons charge!' Right now, it's all over. Emmanuel Cook is exonerated. I had one of the guys who works with the police force tell me that if he had been on duty that night, Emmanuel Cook would never have been arrested. They did (arrest him), it's over now; but sometimes in life you're accused of something that maybe you're not really guilty of, but it makes the headlines. The newspapers, they want to write the headlines, that's just the way life is, but sometimes they need to wait and see if really a guy's guilty or not. I can assure you, Emmanuel Cook did nothing wrong in that whole incident, but, ‘South Carolina football player has gun on campus.' That's all the headlines want to say. We got to fight it, got to live with it. Sometimes we all have to wait and see exactly what happened before we react so much to all these situations."
Spurrier's co-host on the show, Todd Ellis, stated, "Everyone I talked to about Emmanuel Cook - your staff, the players – (say he's)a quality guy, does well in school, has overcome a lot of things in his life without having a bad incident."
Cook has made a very quick recovery from surgery for appendicitis, and may see playing time against Georgia this weekend.
Another player who has had his share of negative press this summer is quarterback Blake Mitchell, whom Spurrier, not surprisingly, named as his starting quarterback against Georgia, after Mitchell had to sit out the first game for missing classes. But Spurrier also singled Mitchell out for praise as well. "Blake's done fine this week." He said. "Blake struggled in the spring game, and hasn't had anything real positive since the Liberty Bowl. Hopefully something good is getting ready to happen for Blake Mitchell. He's been to almost all the summer workouts, been to all the practices."
Spurrier said he had a message for fans critical about Mitchell's suspension: "He had that issue with the class; he dropped the class, and didn't tell anybody. He didn't have to have it to be eligible, or to graduate after this semester. He does go to class, and he's set to graduate after this semester."
The coach found great irony in the fact that Mitchell is attending class on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the rest of the team is having its afternoon meetings on those days. "I'm going through the whole offense, and I don't have my starting quarterback, because he has a class that doesn't get out on Thursdays until 3:30. That's the only time he can take a certain class so he can graduate."
Last week's starting quarterback Chris Smelley is out this week with a shoulder injury suffered in the game against Louisiana-Lafayette and will not travel with the team to Athens. Should Mitchell or backup Tommy Beecher both get hurt, Spurrier named a surprise player as third string quarterback: "We're planning on redshirting Stephen Garcia, but if those two guys get hurt, he's in the ball game. He's the third quarterback this week. Quarterbacks get hurt. Stephen has been meeting with us and I told him today, if two guys get hurt, you're no longer being redshirted, you're going to play. Stephen, he does a lot of good things here and there, he's a true freshman who's not ready to play, but if something happens and we need to go with him, then we'll go with him and see what happens. Hope it doesn't come to that, but you never know in football."
Earlier this week Spurrier shook up his starting lineup at receiver in hopes of finding players who can both block and make big plays. He said, "Culliver will be next in line out there. We're looking for someone who can block somebody. If we could block just one of the guys, maybe Kenny McKinley and maybe Culliver could make a guy miss one-on-one."
Spurrier praised Coach Shelley Smith and the USC women's soccer program. He compared their historic win over UNC in Chapel Hill to the USC football team going into Southern Cal and beating them in football.
The coach wanted fans concerned about his team's less than stellar play against a smaller opponent last week to know one thing as he closed: "We'll be ready to play."
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