Spurrier: Goals are still out there for USC
Before the season, Spurrier said he felt the Gamecocks could compete for an SEC Championship, and after seven games, the Gamecocks had surpassed even his expectations with a no. 6 national ranking. Suddenly, the ceiling fell in on the Gamecocks, though. Over the next two games, the offense frequently looked lost, including being held to a mere six points at home against Vanderbilt. When the offense was able to right the ship, it was the defense that caved in over the next two weeks. Four straight losses later, the Gamecocks find themselves in what could be a win-or-stay-home situation against Clemson. Toward that end, on the white board in the meeting room where the schedule was once listed, there is now just one name. The numbers that marked the list of opponents have been erased, and all the remains is "Clemson," with a circle drawn around it, and "6-5" written above it.
"We're challenging our players to lay it on the line, play with a lot of effort and see if we can be more competitive Saturday night," Spurrier said on Tuesday. "Winning breeds more winning, and unfortunately losing can do the same thing. You have to shake it off. You have to do what you can to learn from your losses and try to move on. We have tried our best to do that and we'll see what happens here Saturday night."
Spurrier has always placed a premium on winning conference championships. When he sets goals for a team, he always lists winning the conference as the ultimate goal, with the logic being you cannot play for the national championship unless you win your conference. He has not revealed all the goals he set for the Gamecocks this year, or the order in which he listed them. However, there is at least one goal that can be accomplished on Saturday, and another that requires a win if Carolina hopes to fulfill it.
"We haven't won seven games yet," said Spurrier. "That was our first goal, win seven and win a bowl game. There's still a few out there."
Beating Clemson is probably on the list somewhere, although neither Spurrier nor any of the players available to the media would confirm it. If it is on the list, though, it falls under winning the SEC East. Spurrier had no hesitation in answering the hypothetical question, if you could only do one, would you rather beat Clemson or win the SEC East?
"When you win the conference championship, you order a ring, your name is in the history books forever," he said. "When you beat your in-state rival, you've got bragging rights for that year, but the next year you start all over again. When it's for a ring, when it's for a championship, those are memories of a lifetime.
"You'd love to win both of them, of course."
The common line of thinking this week is that Carolina has to beat Clemson to salvage what would be an extremely disappointing season. And while that would certainly be the case given that the Gamecocks were once the sixth-ranked team in the country, they are actually in the same place they were a season ago. Last year, Carolina was 5-5 before routing Middle Tennessee State and then beating Clemson and Houston to finish 8-5. The same finish is still available to the Gamecocks.
"We were 6-5 last year… going into this game," Spurrier reminded reporters. "It would seem like we were 10-0 [last year] and now we're 0-10, the way the attitude is. I remember we were 5-5 and one of our coaches said, ‘We have got to beat Middle Tennessee State.' I said, well, we're going to try our best. We played one of our best games really in three years against Middle Tennessee State, and then had some carryover into the Clemson game."
While a similar finish might not completely erase the disappointment of the lost opportunities this season, it would help for a few reasons.
"It would be helpful for us to just win a ballgame," said Spurrier. "It would change a lot of things. It would be very helpful."
With the offense seemingly in shape, the question of the week is - which defense will show up? Will it be the defense that carried the team through nine games, or the unit that gave up record yardage over the last two weeks? Boston College was able to hold the Tigers to less than 50 yards rushing, and the Gamecocks are hoping to do the same thing.
"We watched Boston College play and watched a lot of guys play against them," said Spurrier. "We'll have a plan in place and hopefully our players can respond to the plan in place, get off blocks, make tackles, hustle, fly around, and play at a very high effort level. We haven't been very tough the last two games, let's put it that way. Can we rise up and be tough and compete? I guess we're going to find out Saturday night. I can't answer that until we come in here after the ballgame Saturday night."
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