Boyd knows stiff challenge awaits Gamecocks

It's been five years since the Gamecocks last traveled to Baton Rouge to play LSU, but there is one player still on the roster who was there in the Gamecocks' 2002 matchup against the Bayou Bengals. Tight end Andy Boyd was a little-used freshman for that game, but he now finds himself one of the leaders of a team looking to knock off the no. 2 ranked Tigers.

Boyd played a few snaps on special teams "once it got out of hand" back in 2002 as a true freshman. The Gamecocks jumped out to a quick lead in the first half, but LSU roared back in the second half and rode the momentum to a 38-14 win. There is an intimidation factor with Tiger Stadium, but Boyd says it is not much different from the intimidation factor that players experience throughout the SEC.

"It's definitely a loud stadium," he says. "It's like the Floridas, the Tennessees, places like that. It really gets loud out there. We have to play in it, and that's just one of the things you have to deal with going on the road. Fans are going to be loud everywhere we go. The big thing is concentrating on the game, and [knowing] your assignments, [knowing] what you're supposed to be doing."

Spurrier has noted several times this year that the Gamecocks seem to play better on the road than at home. Under Spurrier, Carolina is just 10-6 at home, but 7-3 on the road, with wins at Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, and Clemson, each of whom won when they visited Columbia. Boyd is not sure why they seem to play better on the road, but he has a theory.

"I think going on the road, you're in a hostile environment. It's bigger games, things like that," he says. "I think [with] that whole aspect, everyone's a lot more concentrated, and a lot more worried about how they're going to do. People are a lot more focused. We just seem to be a tighter group on the road because we know we're the only ones that can support each other."

The Tigers feature a defense that has given up just one score in three games: a touchdown by Virginia Tech. Not only is that the only score an opponent has had, it is the only time an opponent has gotten inside the 20-yard line. Asked to describe the LSU defense, Boyd pulled out just about every adjective in football, saying they are "big, strong, fast… I don't think there's a weak thing that we've seen."

Not exactly the defense you want to face when your offense has yet to find its rhythm. For a moment, it sounds like Boyd may be talking himself out of a Gamecocks upset, but when asked if he believes USC can go to 4-0, he does not hesitate.

"It's probably the best defense we've seen in a long time," he admits. "We've got to play well to have a fighting chance. It's going to come up to us and the will to do it. It's another game, it's another Saturday. It's the fourth week. We prepare for every game the same way. As long as we know what our keys are and how we prepare, I think that's the only thing we can control. I think all of us are confident in our abilities. This is just another up school. It's part of playing in the SEC. Every team we face, week in and week out, has the ability to beat you. We just have to be at our best and be prepared."

Improvement is the buzzword surrounding the Gamecocks this week. The defense has been solid throughout the year, including very strong showings against Georgia and S.C. State, but the offense has only shown glimpses. The one thing all the players point to is that in each of the first two years under Spurrier, the team got better as the year progressed. To beat LSU might require a leap rather than steady improvement, but with eight games remaining, Boyd emphasizes that the team cannot lose sight of the long term goal of getting better each week.

"We must improve, for sure," said Boyd. "Even looking in the future, as long as we're continually progressing, that's a good thing. We've got to be better than we were the last game [and] better than we were at Georgia. I think as long as all the guys start to see these plays, after hopefully four weeks people are picking it up, where it's not going to be the same mistakes happening again. Everyone wants to have a successful offense, defense, whatever. It's just about us not getting discouraged about what mistakes we're making now, but always improving on them. We started off slow, but we can't stop and give up. We've got to continually progress. As long as we continue to work hard at that, we should work our way out. As long as everyone's doing their job and learning their plays and being where they're supposed to be, I think things will start turning towards our way."

Perhaps befitting a player that has missed time with two separate knee surgeries and a shoulder injury, Boyd says that his role as a veteran leader calls upon his knowledge of the game, not his abilities to make plays.

"The only thing I control is the way I play," he explains. "The only thing the next guy beside me can do is control how he plays. The best thing I can do is help him be confident in what he can do and make sure he's doing his job. It's just a matter of everybody understanding that and everybody giving it their all. That's all we can control. I've had three, four years experience playing and [with] some of these younger guys, it's just trying to make them understand different aspects of the game. From that point of view, if I can tell others what I know, that's a huge gain for us."

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