Spurrier, Gamecocks set sights on Ole Miss

The Gamecocks practiced Monday night as they prepare to resume conference play against Ole Miss this weekend. The game has added spice with Carolina coming off an uninspiring win over UAB, while the Rebels are fresh off a big upset at then fourth-ranked Florida. Steve Spurrier made sure to point out that the Gamecocks have one big advantage: the top ranked defense in the country.

"I was surprised a little bit that our defense, being ranked number one in the nation, was not publicized as much as I thought it would," said Spurrier. "Our defense here at South Carolina right now is ranked number one in total defense. We have given up fewer yards than [118] schools. We're proud of what our defense has done so far. I look back on my coaching career, and even all those years at Florida, I cannot remember a week that we were number one in the nation."

Having the top ranked defense this week makes for a particularly juicy storyline given that Carolina is facing off against Ole Miss' Tyrone Nix, who was the coordinator for the Gamecocks the first three years of Spurrier's tenure. Spurrier did not come right out and criticize Nix, but he lofted a thinly-veiled bomb at his old assistant.

"For a unit that's been ranked 10th, 9th, and 9th in the conference [the past three years], this is quite a turnaround: that's something we can hang our hat on and hopefully continue," he said. "Ellis and his guys have done a super job, and we've got a heck of a defense here. Now we've got to get the offense up to speed. If we can hit a few guys here and there and get the quarterbacks and receivers at a high level, we've got a chance to compete with anybody."

It would stand to reason that, having seen the Carolina offense every day in practice for three years, Nix would have advanced knowledge on how to stop the Gamecocks. However, Spurrier is not worried about any inside information leaking out.

"He knows it just like Alabama-Birmingham knows it," Spurrier said. "Players are going to play this game. Coaches move around all the time. People say, well he knows their audibles, but it usually comes down to the players."

On the flip side, the Gamecocks do not have an offensive advantage facing Nix. There are only so many defenses that can be played, and Spurrier is confident he has seen all of them.

"We see their man-to-man cover one schemes just like we play a lot of, and their zone schemes are very similar," he said. "They've got good players and they play hard. They've got a lot of momentum right now. You look at them on tape and you say maybe they're as good as Georgia."

Offensively, there are several starting positions up in the air for the Gamecocks. Spurrier went with two new starters at wide receiver last week, and one, Jason Barnes, is likely to start against Ole Miss. The other wide receiver starter remains up in the air though. On the offensive line, Heath Batchelor returns from a one game suspension, and will have to regain his right guard spot from Terrance Campbell.

"Maybe we'll play seven or eight linemen each week," Spurrier said. "I wouldn't mind doing that."

At quarterback, Stephen Garcia would appear to be the starter, but Spurrier is hesitant to start the freshman on the road. He continued to state Monday night that Garcia would see significant playing time, but also praised Chris Smelley and said a starter will be named on Thursday.

"Chris Smelley was really unlucky," he said. "That last corner route he threw was low and too short, but other than that he really had some good balls that we just couldn't catch."

Turning a focus to other teams, and another conference altogether, the Duke Blue Devils received a single vote in the Coaches' Poll this week. Spurrier has traditionally voted Duke #25 in his preseason poll, as thanks to the school that gave him his first collegiate head coaching job. He abandoned the practice this year to protect the "integrity" of the poll, but the 3-1 Blue Devils have earned the vote this week. Only it did not come from Spurrier.

"I don't remember voting for Duke," Spurrier said. "[Duke coach] David Cutcliffe, at the first of the year, sent me a note and said, ‘One of our goals is to be voted in the Top 25, to earn it, instead of Coach Spurrier giving us that gracious one at the beginning of the season.' If they win one more, they may be in there."

Norwood not caught up in statistics

Spurrier requested more publicity for the Gamecocks' defense, so GamecockAnthem will oblige him by talking to Eric Norwood. In the offseason, Norwood, an All-SEC defensive end, made the switch to linebacker. The move has paid off, as Norwood is Carolina's second leading tackler with 23 stops on the year, along with a fumble forced and fumbles recovered. Speaking with the media Monday, Norwood deftly sidestepped any comparisons between this year's top ranked defense and the units put forth under former coordinator Tyrone Nix.

"We could have played like this last year," he said. "I guess we're just preparing better and executing more this year."

As pleased as Spurrier was with having the nation's best defense, Norwood remained unimpressed. He was already focused on the next opponent, not this week's statistics.

"It's fine for right now, but it ain't nothing but a number," said Norwood. "We just go out and do what we've got to do, game by game."

The Rebels are coming off a stirring upset over the Gators, a win that has everyone's attention except Norwood. He was largely unimpressed by the victory, not because he does not respect Florida, but because he thinks Ole Miss is every bit as good as the Gators.

"I wasn't shocked because I know Ole Miss is a very talented team," he explained. "I know the defense has been solid; they just had a couple guys hurt earlier in the year."

This week's game is big for Carolina, who is 0-2 in the SEC. Norwood was asked several questions about the importance of beating the Rebels, but he was largely unconvinced that beating Ole Miss is any more important than UAB.

"Any win is big," Norwood argued. "It wouldn't be more important. A win is a win, regardless of the team. It's an SEC win, so I guess that makes it better. It would be good for us to go down there and get a win. As long as we prepare right and execute, we'll be all right."

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