Gamecocks looking to rediscover winning ways
In each of the last two seasons, this matchup garnered national attention, as Spurrier, one of the most recognizable figures in college football, went up against his alma mater and the program he built there. This year, the game is situated squarely on the back burner. Both teams are basically out of the running for the SEC East division crown, and playing for pride and bowl placement. Even Spurrier says Florida is just another team on the schedule now.
"The storyline is over, really," he said. "I've been here three years, and their coach [Urban Meyer] has been there three years. It's not a story. [The only story is] they won the national championship last year, and they are the defending conference champs. It'd be neat to beat them if we could. What we really need to concern ourselves with is playing the best we can. Play the best you can on every play, and we'll figure out what the score is when it's over."
The Gamecocks will obviously have to play better against Florida than they have played in recent weeks. However, there are reasons for optimism. Spurrier pointed out that both the offense and defense have had their worst game of the season in the past three games, and "special teams hasn't done much except rough the punter."
"Like I told our guys, our offense had a really, really lousy game against Vanderbilt, and now our defense had their lousy game," Spurrier said. "We're hoping we regroup and play a lot better. Our defense had played a little better than the offense most of the year until last Saturday night. I don't know if Arkansas is that great of a running team or we're that bad. I guess we're going to find out at the end of the season here. We had not been quite that poor against the run. Our offense and defense are exactly eighth in the conference. We're sort of a 50/50 team, I guess you'd say, as far as who's playing the best. It doesn't really matter. The object is to win the game. If you have to win 9-7 or 51-49, the object is to try to get more points than the other guy."
Much like he did two weeks ago, Spurrier tried to calm some of the panic surrounding the program by mentioning the team's relative youth. In the history of Gamecocks football, chances for big seasons have been isolated, making the missed opportunities to do something great that much more painful. In Spurrier's mind, his program is only three years old, and still overachieving. In a few years, the Gamecocks should get worried if they lose three straight, but not now.
"Somebody asked me the other day if I were discouraged," said Spurrier. "I said, `No, I'm not discouraged. Our big recruiting class was last year, it wasn't three years ago.' We've got a lot of players here that we believe are going to be outstanding players. As I've said many times, our best team was not going to be this year. We didn't think it would be. When we were 6-1, I wasn't sitting on the table here saying how great we are. It sort of all caught up to us here against some good teams. Again, we had a really, really lousy offensive game against Vandy, and really, I haven't been proud of the way our offense has played the last two weeks. We've had some crucial errors at crucial times. We win and lose as a team, and we haven't done as well lately. We're going to try to do well on Saturday night."
The evidence on the field backs up what Spurrier says. In the past two weeks, a pair of freshmen has emerged to become contributors. Redshirt freshman Heath Batchelor was a backup tackle before being inserted at guard in the second half against Tennessee, the same time as the Gamecocks' offensive resurgence began.
"Heath Batchelor hung in there pretty well," said Spurrier. "Looking back, we wish we would've had him in there sooner. We've given most all of them the chance, and those five [linemen] appear to be the best we can put out there."
The other freshman making a surprise contribution is wide receiver Dion Lecorn. In the preseason, Lecorn appeared headed for a redshirt. When none of the receivers ahead of him were able to contribute, Lecorn got a shot against Mississippi State. Lecorn held on to the starting job ever since, but last week was his real coming out party. Lecorn led Carolina with 8 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, giving the gamecocks a viable receiving threat opposite Kenny McKinley.
"He had an excellent game, catching everything, and running good routes," Spurrier said. "He proved he could play. Sometimes it takes a while to find out who can play. I don't know why. You'd think in preseason you'd be smart enough to know who your best players are, but sometimes it takes the real games to figure it all out. He tries to do what we ask him to do. He's coachable. Some guys, you tell them [what to do], and they still don't do it. You tell him something, he tries to do it. He's got talent, too, maybe a little bit more talent than we thought. He's a good player, likes to play, and a good blocker downfield."
Spurrier did not make any grand promises about the upcoming game. He also is not packing in the season. If the Gamecocks can finally put together that elusive "complete game," they could get the season back on track.
"Hopefully we'll play a little bit better than we did last Saturday night," Spurrier said. "Hopefully our guys will put on a good performance. We're looking forward to it, and seeing if we can't get back into the win column. We need to sort of try to right our ship and see if we can't play a lot better this week."
- Captain Munnerlyn has a sprained left foot, and his status is still uncertain for the game. Spurrier said he expects to find out "Thursday or Friday if he can go."
- Emanuel Cook has an ankle injury, and Spurrier is hopeful Cook can play Saturday. "When E. Cook went out the other night, it seems like [the defense] got a little worse than what it was," Spurrier said.
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