Spurrier previews USC - LSU showdown

At his weekly press conference, Steve Spurrier appeared cautiously optimistic heading into Saturday's game against thirteenth-ranked LSU. As he fended off questions about rival coaches, media saturation, and rival coaches again, Spurrier repeatedly came back to a single theme: the Gamecocks are getting close to being a very good team.

The Tigers will certainly have something to say about whether South Carolina becomes a good team. LSU has only lost twice ever to the Gamecocks, winning 15 games to go with one tie. LSU is also coming off an embarrassing 51-21 loss to Florida. Does that loss mean the Tigers will come to Columbia with shaken confidence, or will they come to town with renewed focus and something to prove?

"I don't know how that all plays out," Spurrier said. "Every game, I've thought, stands on its own merit. This is a key game for us. They've all been the last couple of weeks, but LSU is sort of the big name team as we know. What we're really trying to do this week is talking about playing the best we can, not so much worry that we're playing the defending national champ and a team that has tremendous history and tradition. Let's just go see if we can't play a lot better than we've been playing in some of these games. If we play our game and play well and take care of the ball, I really believe we'll be right in there with these guys."

That approach differs from the approach the coaching staff took when then second ranked Gerogia came to Columbia. Leading up to that game, the players were repeatedly reminded that a win would make Gamecock history. This week, the coaches are not saying anything about LSU's status, instead focusing only on their own team.

"Georgia came in and we talked about never beating the number two team and we had our chances, [but lost]," said Spurrier, explaining the change.

For Spurrier, focusing on the Gamecocks means focusing on the offense. Carolina's defense has been outstanding this season, but the offense has been inconsistent. Freshman Stephen Garcia will make his first start this week, trying to continue the efficient play he displayed in the second half against Kentucky. Spurrier is turning to Garcia with the hope that he can provide the big play spark the team has lacked so far this year.

"The offense is getting better," Spurrier said. "We're not punting much. We're making a bunch of third downs, but we're just not getting a lot of touchdowns."

Garcia will benefit from having a deep wide receiver corps to throw to. When Kenny McKinley was injured against Vanderbilt, it meant unproven receivers like Moe Brown, Jason Barnes, Joe Hills and tight end Weslye Saunders had to step up. It took a few weeks for that to happen, but beginning with the Ole Miss game (perhaps not coincidentally when McKinley returned), that group has come on strong.

"We're a little bit more encouraged with our wide receiver play," said Spurrier. "It has a lot to do with if the quarterbacks can hit them when they're open, but they're getting open better. Three weeks ago we had trouble getting off man to man coverage. I think our guys are running better routes. […] Jason Barnes has come around the last two games. He's got a game ball each of the last two. He had some big catches in both to help us win the game. Joe Hills has come around better."

The offense will be without a pair of occasional starters this week, though. Guard Heath Batchelor has been suspended, while wide receiver Dion LeCorn has switched to defense. Batchelor's suspension was announced after practice Monday, but Spurrier did not discuss the matter until Tuesday.

"He's out; he's gone," Spurrier said. "Not permanently. If he takes care of his off the field activities, academics and so forth, he could be reinstated down the road."

With Batchelor out, the Gamecocks will rotate the trio of Jamon Meredith, Terrence Campbell, and Lemuel Jeanpierre at the two guard positions.

"They're about the same in there, so all three should play," said Spurrier.

LeCorn had been in the coaches' doghouse for much of the season, and was moved over to defense to get a fresh start. Spurrier said the move was designed to maximize team depth.

"Coach [Ron] Cooper was looking for someone to try to train over there in case of injuries," he said. "Dion has not performed all that well at wide receiver the last three or four weeks so he moved down the depth chart and now he's trying to play defense. We wish him the very best and hopefully he can help us over there."

For the second day in a row, Spurrier was asked to comment on Tommy Bowden's dismissal at Clemson. At first, Spurrier referred back to his Monday night statement, which was essentially "No comment." He was asked several more times about what happened, and he grew visibly frustrated with the questions at one point.

"I mentioned yesterday that I was a little bit surprised it happened, but that's really all I need to say," he said. "I've got enough issues here trying to score some touchdowns and things like that. I don't need to get involved in things like that. I didn't think it was going to happen, but it did. The only reason I didn't think it was going to happen was because he got a big, long-term contract after he beat us last year. [Tennessee] Coach [Phillip] Fulmer did the same thing. I don't think they're going to make a move on him, but I don't know. Just because a guy gets a new long-term deal doesn't mean too much nowadays, except he's going to get a lot more money if they let him go."

After the press conference concluded, Spurrier was again asked about Bowden. He offered up a little bit more, noting that when athletic boosters turn on a coach, it becomes difficult for the coach to maintain his authority.

"Obviously there were a lot of people that wanted him gone," Spurrier said, "some influential people."

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