Gamecocks prep for border battle

On Monday night the Gamecocks returned to practice following a long weekend. They came back as the highest ranked Carolina team in a generation and began preparations for their first game against North Carolina since 1991. Read inside for a full report on Monday night's workout.


When he spoke with the media after practice, Steve Spurrier did not seem very impressed with being ranked 7th in the nation. He was asked if reaching the Top 10 was one of the goals he set for the team, but Spurrier declined to answer.

"I'm not going to tell you all of our goals," he said. "One of them was to finish in the Top 25, though. I'll tell you that one."

Spurrier said that the long weekend caused him to change the Monday practice routine slightly. Many of the players went home for the weekend, and have not worked out since the game Thursday night. With that in mind, the Gamecocks spent some extra time running following practice.

"We did a little extra stuff, just trying to get the guys back a little bit conditioning-wise since we had three days off," Spurrier explained. "We're just settling into our routine and hopefully we'll play a lot better. Our offense didn't play very well last week, as we all know, but I guess we had enough good plays to score a few points. The offense outscored (Eric) Norwood by one touchdown. Hopefully we can start playing a little better, but I don't know. We've still got to block somebody up front, and we're just not real good blockers."

Toward that end, the Gamecocks may make some changes on the offensive line this week. Spurrier initially said that Lemuel Jeanpierre would start at guard, but quickly backed off that statement, saying the decision would be made later in the week.

"Lem is getting another look to see if he can play any better," said Spurrier. "We'll have some different guards in there probably, [but] maybe not. Seaver (Brown) did ok. Seaver will probably be in there. James Thompson struggled a little bit... but he's been doing pretty well. Maybe Lem's ready to jump in there and do some stuff."

Although he certainly would rather have settled on a starting five by now, Spurrier is not too concerned about continuing to juggle linemen.

"We aren't the only ones that have got problems with guys blocking," he said.

Looking ahead to North Carolina, Spurrier said he was not surprised when the Tar Heels upset Miami last weekend.

"North Carolina's a pretty good team," he said. "They've lost a bunch of close ones. They only had one game they weren't in, and that was the South Florida game, and they're number five in the country. They're a good team. Physically they look about as good as anybody we've played lately. They've got big, strong, fast guys. They haven't been winning a lot up there, but they have been recruiting. North Carolina has always seemed to recruit well. They've got ball players."


Saunders excited about playing home state Tar Heels

Freshman tight end Weslye Saunders is one of several Gamecocks who will be returning home this weekend. Saunders grew up just minutes from North Carolina, and has deep ties to the school. His father attended North Carolina, and his uncle is a professor there. Saunders talked Monday about what the game means to him.

"It's totally different, playing in front of all my family and friends and everybody who expected me to go to North Carolina, and friends on the team," Saunders said. "There's something personal here with this one."

Saunders admitted that he nearly became a Tar Heel. He talked about how difficult it was on signing day for him to decide where he wanted to play.

"I was pretty close to signing there," he said. "I had the signing sheets in front of my face and I almost signed, but I stuck with my commitment to South Carolina. I had already committed to South Carolina on [February] 5th, and on the 7th I was going back and forth, but [my dad] just led me to stick with my commitment and stick with my word."

Naturally, Saunders grew up a fan of Tar Heel basketball, eventually becoming a football fan as well.

"Growing up I was a bigger basketball fan, but as I started getting better at football, football grew on me a little bit," he said. "I was always a (North) Carolina football fan back in the days of Alge Crumpler, Ronald Curry, Julius Peppers. I used to go to the games with my dad. I always loved North Carolina."

While Saunders has quickly adapted to playing for the Gamecocks, one off the field matter has come a little more slowly. Saunders repeatedly called the Tar Heels "Carolina." Confronted about his faux pas, Saunders shook his head and laughed.

"I've still got to get used to that one," he smiled. "Down here they refer to Carolina as South Carolina."

He proved to be a quick learner, though. He talked about how part of his decision to become a Gamecock was based on his desire to move away from home, he said, "I've been there all my life and Carolina - North Carolina - is about seven minutes from my house. I've been going there since I was three years old, so I needed to get away from that area."

Like many of his teammates, Saunders watched the Tar Heels upset Miami last weekend, and the game definitely caught their attention.

"They were pretty impressive, except for the second half," he said. "They definitely are not playing like a 2-4 team. I went up there this past weekend, and that's all they were talking about. Everybody is getting pumped up for this game. They beat Miami, so they're feeling pretty good about themselves. It's going to be a good game."


Notes:

- Web Brown (knee sprain) and Freddie Brown (ankle sprain) both practiced Monday and should be able to play against UNC.

- When told that quarterback Chris Smelley was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week, Spurrier said, "Really? They didn't watch him real closely, he struggled." He added that Smelley did make some nice throws in the fourth quarter.


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