Spurrier: Goals are still within reach
The sky is still there, complete with clouds and the sun. The Gamecocks are still 6-2, and still tied for first place in the SEC East. Just like the 90 degree temperatures in the last week of October, the Gamecocks are in unfamiliar territory, and they still have a chance to do something special. On the white board where the coaches write the schedule, there is a "6-2" with a box around it where the word "Vandy" used to be. In his weekly press conference, Spurrier told reporters what he explained to the team.
"That's our schedule up there," he pointed. "We drew a little ‘6-2' just to remind our guys that at this time we're tied with three teams with a 6-2 record. There's a whole bunch of us right there, and these last four games will determine what type of year we all have. We've got to get that [loss] out of our system. It's history. It was a lousy offensive game. We've got to somehow get our confidence back and get ready to play Tennessee."
That is the challenge for Carolina this week. The Gamecocks cannot feel sorry for themselves, and must prepare for a difficult stretch that will decide who plays in Atlanta on December 1. Besides Carolina, there are four other two-loss teams in the SEC East. The Gamecocks have beaten two of them, Georgia and Kentucky, and play the other two, Tennessee and Florida, in the next three weeks.
"What we do now is we try to regroup a little bit," said Spurrier. "There's not any pressure to win the SEC when we were picked fourth. There's no pressure on us. We need to relax and go play. The only pressure on us is to play smart and play with effort. We didn't do that close on offense last week. That was the most embarrassing part of the game."
The lack of effort was so bad that the Gamecocks were booed during the Vanderbilt game, something that Spurrier said on Sunday he wished had not happened. He clarified on Tuesday afternoon that he was not criticizing the fans.
"Looking back it was right there near the top of some of the poorest offensive games that I've coached," he said. "Certainly the fans probably had a right to boo because it just appeared that our guys didn't give a damn, to tell you the truth - jumping offsides, dropping the ball here and there, and couldn't hit guys that were open. I've apologized every year for a bad play and probably ought to again. I don't know what we could've done differently. We had a pretty good game plan, but it was really embarrassing to take those 5-yard penalties going backwards time and time again. We'll take all the criticism, we deserve it."
Spurrier quickly changed his tone though, and delivered a message straight to the fans. This season is a part of a bigger picture, and Chicken Little is only thinking about that bump on his head. Spurrier insisted that he is building a program, not a team, and just like this team is better than last year's squad, next season will be better.
"This is not the best team we're ever going to have here," he said. "Hopefully our fans know that, too. Our big recruiting class was last year, so we're still in the building process. We're not in the final stages. This is not our final best team ever. I hope everyone understands that. We expect to have another strong recruiting class this year, to go with last year's. We're not there yet, and we didn't profess to be there, but we thought that we would play a lot better offensively than we have this year. It hasn't happened.
Spurrier continued, mentioning the fact that often the third year under a new coach is a struggle. He pointed to Notre Dame, which has just one win in Charlie Weis' third season. He added that his worst team at Florida came during his third season.
"We're still building a football program," Spurrier continued. "Sometimes your third year is your worst year. Usually, not always, when a coach leaves, they leave some pretty good juniors and seniors and then there is a little gap. Our best teams are definitely ahead of us."
The next step in building the program comes Saturday, at 7:45 in Knoxville. If Chicken Little can strap his spurs back on and beat Tennessee for the second time in three years, it would show that Carolina is at the very least on par with the Vols, and maybe even surpassing them. A win would not erase the disappointment of losing to Vanderbilt, but it would be yet another stepping stone for the Gamecocks.
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