Gamecocks begin preparations for Vanderbilt
"We're worried about trying to beat Vandy," said Steve Spurrier. "That's the only thing we need to do; see if we can't play a lot harder and smarter and play our assignments better than we did last week. Vandy is a team that's lost to three good teams: Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. We need to play well to beat them."
Spurrier refused to say much about being ranked sixth in the country, the highest ranking for Carolina since 1984. Carolina is also ranked sixth in the first edition of the BCS standings, which were released this past Sunday. Instead, Spurrier worried about the offensive line, which down the stretch against North Carolina struggled to get the push needed to help run out the clock. In response, Spurrier declared open tryouts, although he jokingly refused to reveal any specifics about possible changes.
"We've got a bunch of tryouts going," he said. "We'll have at least one new starter in there. We'll let you know later in the week when the tryouts are over [who it is]."
"I'm not going to get into specifics," Spurrier joked, deflecting a question about which positions were in play. "It's too important. We don't want to give Vandy any extra advantage. You know they're very worried about who's going to play guard, don't you?"
There were some welcome sights at practice, as most of the players injured in the last week returned from injury. Seemingly the entire secondary was banged up, including safety Emanuel Cook, who admitted to playing with a thigh bruise. Darian Stewart (knee) and Brandon Isaac (shoulder) had no lingering effects from minor injuries sustained against the Tar Heels. Stewart's health is important to the Gamecocks, since he has emerged as a key player for the defense after not even starting the season opener.
"Darian Stewart had a heck of a game," Spurrier said. "He ripped out two fumbles that we couldn't get in the fourth quarter. Any one of those recoveries might have gotten the thing out of hand."
Defensive backs Carlos Thomas (neck) and Stoney Woodson (hamstring) both worked out with the team after sitting out the game. Thomas practiced at full speed less than a week after a scary neck injury, while Woodson is still being cautious with his hamstring, but Spurrier expects both to play against the Commodores.
"Carlos was out running around a little bit," said Spurrier. "Stoney did a little bit. Hopefully he and Carlos can play. We're very healthy for this time of the year."
Also returning to practice was offensive lineman Gurminder Thind, who aggravated an ankle injury against North Carolina, and linebacker Dustin Lindsey, who has been out with a knee injury.
E. Cook emerging as force in defensive backfield
The Carolina pass defense dropped from first in the nation to third in the nation after giving up 285 yards to North Carolina, but there was a bright side. Emanuel Cook finally grabbed an interception, and then another one.
Cook had dropped several easy interceptions going into the game, causing Spurrier to complain mockingly about Cook's hands. On Saturday, Cook made sure he held on both times the ball came his way.
"I've been thinking about [the drops] ever since it happened," Cook said. "I've been working on ball drills after practice. I think my hands are improving and I'm getting better at that."
The second interception was key, as North Carolina was driving for a touchdown when Cook leapt high to snatch away a pass from quarterback-turned-wide receiver Joe Daily. The play came in a second half where Carolina's defense struggled to get off the field. Cook said that injuries - the Gamecocks were without two defensive backs and lost another two to injury at various points in the game - and fatigue took their toll as the second half wore on.
"We had a lot of people injured," Cook acknowledged. "We were hyped, we were ready to finish them off, [but] we just came out sluggish. It was just a lot of people out there slowing. I think it [wore] on us a little bit. We've got good conditioning; I think it just took a toll on us."
Now ranked #6 in the nation, the Gamecocks suddenly find themselves in the role of the hunted, rather than the hunter. In a season where the hunter has toppled the hunted with remarkable frequency, Cook knows Carolina cannot afford to get caught looking ahead.
"Everybody hasn't been thinking about what's going to happen in the future," he said. "We're just thinking about this game, and taking it one game at a time. It means a lot to be number six, but we can't slip up, we can't take a step back. We've got to go out there and finish it off. We've got a chance to win it all here, but we've just got to take it one step at a time, take everybody serious, play hard, and play four quarters all the way through. We can't slip up like last week."
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