Gamecocks continue preparations for LSU

With the nationally televised showdown with LSU only three days away, Camp Gamecock is on full alert. Security guards were working overtime trying to make sure nobody caught a glimpse of what went on inside the Proving Grounds, and Steve Spurrier was extra careful not to be too specific about his team's preparations when he spoke to the media following practice.


Spurrier's first comment following an extra long practice was, "I don't have any words of wisdom today," and he did his best to live up to his promise.

When asked if backup quarterback Chris Smelley has gotten a lot of work in practice, he replied succinctly, "He's got a lot (of reps). He and Blake (Mitchell) split it up this week."

What about wide receiver Chris Culliver, out with an injured ankle? "He hasn't done much."

After doing some light work in practice while wearing a harness on his shoulder, could safety Brandon Isaac play against the Tigers? "He could go in there a little bit. Not too much probably."

What is Cliff Matthews' status following a hand injury? "Cliff cracked a tiny bone in his hand. He's going to play with one of those rubber casts on his hand."

How has guard James Thompson, back from a three game suspension, practiced this week? "About like always."

Pressed on whether Thompson could reclaim his starting job, Spurrier became downright gregarious. After saying that Thompson would not start this week, and would not see significant playing time, Spurrier added, "He's not played much since he's been here, but he'll probably get a chance in there (to earn more playing time)."

Eventually Spurrier returned to his normal wisecracking self. When asked about the offensive line, probably the team's most pressing concern heading into the game, Spurrier joked, "The scout team still gives us fits."

"We've got Jordin Lindsey, since he's ineligible, he's over there rushing hard," Spurrier said. "We have trouble blocking him. We've got some walk-on defensive tackle we're having trouble with too. Hopefully we can rise to the occasion. Sometimes our guys have risen to the occasion and blocked a little bit better. I think our line will do a decent job this week, we just have to wait and see."

The team is hoping that, with better protection, quarterback Blake Mitchell will be able to return to the form he showed at the end of last season, the form that won him the Liberty Bowl MVP award. Spurrier has said that he thinks the main thing holding Mitchell back is a lack of confidence. He cannot give Mitchell confidence just by telling him to be more confident, but Spurrier said he likes what he has seen in practice this week.

"He threw some good ones today," Spurrier said. "He had a good practice today. He's got to (gain confidence) himself. I think he understands that he's got to play better. I hope Blake finishes this game, but he knows he's got to play better than last week to finish it."

Across the country, and especially within the Carolina locker room, this weekend's game is seen as a statement game. The win over Georgia, along with past wins over Tennessee, Florida, and Clemson has established the Gamecocks as a dangerous team capable of upsetting an elite team. If USC can win Saturday, they could go from a spoiler to a challenger. Spurrier is not buying into that line of thought, though. He is pointing at a different game as a statement game.

"We're hoping that Clemson game last year was our turnaround game," he said. "Since that game, we've been pretty fortunate. Good things have happened since that game. The other team's been dropping passes. When the ball slips out of Blake's hand, we recover. Good things are happening to us now.


Pepper discusses season ending knee injury

Defensive lineman Nathan Pepper might have the worst luck on the team. Last year, he made an interception against Clemson, and returned it for a game-clinching touchdown.

Almost.

Pepper slowed down as he neared the end zone, and the ball was knocked out of his hands and out of the end zone, giving Clemson the ball back.

Last Saturday, he had his chance at redemption. Grabbing another pass out of the air, he rumbled untouched into the end zone, this time making certain he did not slow down until he was well in the end zone. Unfortunately, his play of redemption ended with him crumpled in the end zone while his teammates mobbed him.

"It's rough having to end the season like that," Pepper acknowledged Wednesday night. "I was just focusing on crossing the goalline. Once I came through the line, I just put my foot down to slow down and get off the field, and my knee just buckled."

Pepper did not immediately know what had happened, and also had to deal with all his teammates jumping on top of him. He said he told his teammates to get off him, "but it was way too loud for them to hear."

"I was just thinking about what happened to my knee, I wasn't thinking about the touchdown too much," he said. "I knew something was hurt. I didn't know exactly what happened, but I knew something wasn't right."

Spurrier said he thought Pepper was trying to make a celebratory move when he injured his knee. Pepper assured everyone that he was doing no such thing.

"I was thinking about just making sure I finished the run, making sure nobody was coming," he said. "I didn't think at one point in my mind to celebrate. I was just thinking about getting through the line, making sure I was in there, and getting off the field."

Pepper will have surgery on his torn ACL once the swelling in his knee goes down, probably in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he is on crutches that he complains hurt his arms, and wearing a bulky brace on his left leg. At least with the brace and crutches, he gets a lot of sympathy as he limps around campus, but that does not make getting around any easier.

"It's real disappointing," said Pepper. "I just wanted to come out and get a good start to the season, play a full season, and play these good teams. I've never had to miss a game due to injury."

Spurrier stated following Saturday night's win over S.C. State that he believes Pepper is eligible to receive a medical redshirt this season. That means that Pepper would have two years of eligibility remaining when he returns next fall.


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