Spurrier optimistic about 2008 Gamecocks

Last year Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks sprinted out of the gate, winning six of their first seven games on the way to a No. 6 ranking. Media and fans alike began to think that South Carolina might be ready to compete for its first ever SEC Title. But that was not to be, as the Gamecocks stumbled to a 6-6 finish. A rejuvenated and motivated Spurrier is ready to prove that start was not a fluke.

At last year's SEC Media Days, Spurrier made a point to say the Gamecocks were ready to compete for the SEC. On Friday he acknowledged that may have been premature.

"Obviously we were dead wrong in thinking that our team was capable last year," Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks did not make the plays they needed late in painstakingly close losses to Tennessee and Clemson, that were the difference between having a good year and the disappointing year they had.

"A couple of heartbreaking losses at Tennessee [and] Clemson, that would have changed things around, but we didn't quite win 'em," Spurrier said. "[We] didn't make a play there at the end of the game. [There's a] huge difference between 8-4 and 6-6. But at 6-6, maybe it was good for us in a way, because as a head coach, I got to look and say, ‘Hey, how can we get better?'"

Spurrier said he obviously needed to recruit better players in order to get better, and he believes he has done that. The South Carolina team that trots onto the Williams-Brice turf August 28th should look like an SEC team, according to Spurrier.

"We absolutely have no excuses about ball players," Spurrier said. "We need to coach better, and they've got to play like good players. If we get that happening, maybe those close losses will turn into victories, 'cause to win the Conference everybody has to win their close games, as we know."

Spurrier hopes to have improved his coaching staff with the additions of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson from Mississippi State and special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski from Maryland.

"We're fortunate to get Ellis Johnson," Spurrier said. "Ellis is a South Carolina native. As you know, he had been at Mississippi State the last three, four years. At Alabama back in the late '90s, 2000, so forth. And Ellis is a proven defensive coordinator with a very good track record. We feel like with Ellis and better players, we're going to play better on defense. Hopefully we'll do a good job coaching there."

Rychleski will be in charge of all special teams, making him the first coach to be given that much responsibility there for Spurrier since Ron Zook at Florida.

"Ray is a guy that has his own way of doing things," Spurrier said. "We've changed our practice schedules around at South Carolina. Hopefully, we're a little tougher, more disciplined, because we certainly need that through the entire team."

On offense, Spurrier is still the man in charge, but he will have more help this year from Steve Spurrier Jr., who will do a lot of the play calling and all of the "paperwork" during the week that goes into being the primary play caller on game day.

"Nowadays, guys are going in motion, shifts and all that, which you have to do. To get it all on paper and so forth, it takes a lot of time during the week," Spurrier said. "The guy who's the principal play caller, I mean, he's got to [have the plays] going through his mind all week long, right up to game time, or else you can't find them. You can't find where the plays are."

With Spurrier Jr. taking on many of the week-to-week play calling responsibilities, Spurrier will have more time to deal with his quarterbacks, making sure they're ready to play. The Head Ball Coach reiterated that Tommy Beecher is the guy at quarterback and will get every opportunity to go the distance.

"We need to give him every opportunity to see if he can take us a long way," Spurrier said. "Again, this kid, he's very smart. He can run. He can make all the throws. He just hasn't played that much yet. But this summer I think he has accepted the fact that he's the quarterback, and I think he's done a pretty good job getting the guys organized, throwing the ball around, and giving himself a chance to develop as the leader of the offense."

Protecting Beecher will be an experienced offensive line that Spurrier hopes is finally ready to show some consistency. Offensive line problems have plagued the Gamecock offense since Spurrier arrived in Columbia, and he pointed to the fact that South Carolina has not had a lineman on either side of the ball drafted since his arrival.

"They should be better. Our center, I guess, was the only senior last year," Spurrier said. "But I tell people, when they see our guys in the weight room, ‘Man, that guy looks like an all NFL lineman.' I say, ‘Yeah, in the weight room he does look like one. But all of a sudden the ball is snapped and he's not quite doing it.'"

Not only the offensive line, but the entire team has to play their assignments better and with more effort and intensity, according to Spurrier. He believes that is the difference between winning close games and losing the heartbreaking ones.

"If you got a good looking team, they got to play harder and smarter. If we can play with a higher effort level, play our assignments a lot, lot better than what we've been doing, it gives you a chance when one or two plays determine the game."

The Gamecocks are doing everything they can to get ready for the inevitable close games they will encounter in an SEC that is more competitive than ever.

"We're actually putting a little tape together. I hope it helps the bad plays that cost us games," Spurrier said. "Some of those games, I mean, I've got about 10 plays. You lose in overtime, there's about 10 plays that could have changed the game our way, either [with] a little better effort [or] a little better smarts."

Spurrier hopes with the athletes in place, a capable coaching staff, and returning players with experience, that the Gamecocks are finally ready to do all those things, which should lead to more wins. Despite last year's setback, Spurrier is pumped for another season in the SEC and is as ready as ever to try and do things never done before at South Carolina.

"I knew it would be difficult. If it was easy, it wouldn't be that much fun to try to do it," Spurrier said. "If it was easy, all them other coaches would have been winning at South Carolina. So we know it's not easy. But it is a challenge. It's one of the ultimate challenges."

"But South Carolina can win. I really believe that. They can win."

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