Gamecocks begin preparations for LSU
"We had a pretty good practice tonight," said Steve Spurrier. "We're healthy and should be ready to play our best this week."
Naturally, the main topic of conversation had nothing to do with South Carolina, but rival Clemson. The assembled media horde had plenty to say about Tommy Bowden's departure, but those expecting Spurrier to take a jab at Bowden were left disappointed.
"Just surprised a little bit," Spurrier replied when asked for his reaction, "but we've got our own problems here. We don't need to comment on other people's issues. We're concerned about our problems here: trying to kick some field goals and complete some passes and all that kind of stuff. It was a little surprising, obviously."
Pressed further, Spurrier was asked if he thought it particularly unusual for a coach to be dismissed mid-season. He recalled that it happened at his alma mater just four years ago to his successor at Florida, Ron Zook.
"They had one at Florida a few years ago, but they let him remain the coach," he said. "Who knows the best way to do it."
Just one week after producing the SEC Offensive Player of the Week, the Gamecock offense struggled for much of the day against Kentucky. Once Spurrier replaced the aforementioned Player of the Week, Chris Smelley, with Garcia the offense took off, and following the game Spurrier named Garcia the starter against LSU. For the first time in Garcia's young career, the redshirt freshman took the first team snaps in Monday night's practice. Spurrier did not see any difference in the young signal-caller's demeanor, though.
"I guess he handled it okay tonight," he said. "It wasn't much different than all the other nights except he went first and Chris Smelley went second. That was the only difference, just about."
Garcia is charged with bringing consistency to an offense that has produced some big plays, but sputtered at other times. Garcia moved the ball well against Kentucky, but there is still work to be done.
"We've still got to block better up front," said Spurrier. "We need a long run every now and then. We almost hit a long pass the other day, but we didn't hit any real long ones. Stephen can throw the long ball."
As inconsistent as the offense has been, the defense has been the exact opposite. Two weeks ago, the defense was ranked first in the nation in total defense. That ranking took a hit after the Ole Miss game, but this week the ranking is back up to number three.
"That's pretty doggone good," Spurrier beamed. "We can play some defense. If we can get the offense going just a little bit better, we've got a chance against everybody."
The Gamecocks also have a chance to be successful because they have thus far avoided the injury bug. The only two players with major injuries, Jared Cook and Ryan Succop, both played last week and are expected to play against LSU this weekend. Cook has a foot injury, but it did not seem to hamper him much against the Wildcats.
"Jared should be fine" said Spurrier. "We put him in a boot to help his foot heal up. He didn't need to practice tonight."
Succop, on the other hand, suffered an abdominal strain last week and missed four of his five field goal attempts after missing just three all year. However, three of Succop's five kickoffs went for touchbacks, suggesting the injury did nothing to impair his distance. Spurrier supported that observation after Succop kicked during practice Monday.
"He's fine; he just missed," he said. "We're going to try to get him to make a whole bunch during practice this week and get out there and kick the way he normally kicks. His kickoffs were boomed out of the end zone. He did a super job kicking off. That was a big part of our victory: good kickoffs."
Also after practice, Spurrier announced that guard Heath Batchelor has been suspended for violating team rules.
Saunders discusses performance against UK
Stephen Garcia is getting most of the headlines for orchestrating the win over Kentucky, but not to be forgotten is tight end Weslye Saunders, who was on the receiving end of the game-winning touchdown pass. On that play, called "Cajun," Saunders lined up as a tackle eligible and ran uncovered into the end zone.
"I lined up as a tackle, tried to cover up a little bit, go out and hopefully they don't see me," Saunders recalled. "It worked to perfection. At 6'6", 270, I kind of look like a tackle. Coaches told me to go in there and cover up my number, make sure they don't recognize me. It worked out pretty good. I literally covered up [Saunders crossed his arms over his chest to demonstrate]. I tried to be as discreet as possible."
All that being said, the part of that play that had everyone talking occurred after the whistle blew. After the officials raised their arms to signal touchdown, wide receiver Joe Hills ran up behind Saunders and jumped over the tight end's head.
"He jumped right clean over my head," Saunders said in amazement. "We practice jumping in the air together [to bump chests], but he caught me off guard with that."
The touchdown came as a sort of vindication for Saunders. He has spent much of the season in the coaches' doghouse. Saunders even fell to third team at one point, behind wide receiver turned linebacker turned tight end Larry Freeman. Saunders would not say what got him in the doghouse, although Spurrier and tight ends coach Ray Rychleski indicated it was Saunders' blocking.
"It wasn't anything in particular, but once you get in Coach Spurrier's doghouse, it's hard to get out," said Saunders. "The coaches see that I'm working hard. Hopefully I've turned that corner. I think I'm starting to get the hang of things, and coach is showing more dependency on me and Jared. I had a couple drops, but hopefully coach thinks I made up for it with the touchdown at the end."
Saunders finished with two catches for twenty yards, but he could have doubled that output had he held on to a pair of passes that he dropped. Both would have probably resulted in first downs if he had held on, though in fairness the second drop was caused by a solid hit from a defender.
"The first one, I just wasn't concentrating," Saunders explained. "Before the play started, I didn't think the ball was coming to me. Coach Ray said one of the things he liked about me and Jared was we ran all our routes thinking that the ball was coming to us, and I didn't go through with that on that particular play. There's no excuse for that. Dropping a pass is unacceptable."
And what if he had held on to those two drops?
"It would have been a big day, but two catches, a touchdown and a win; I'll take that any day."
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