Gamecocks continue preparations for Vols

The Gamecocks practiced Wednesday as they continued preparations for Saturday's game against Tennessee. Carolina received some good news on the injury front, but elsewhere, Steve Spurrier once again declined to name a starting quarterback, saying only that expected starter Stephen Garcia and expected backup Chris Smelley are doing "okay."

"[Garcia] is looking okay," Spurrier said. "He and Chris are doing okay. We need to improve, so we're trying."

After watching the LSU game film, Spurrier said that Garcia needed to get better at recognizing pressure and throwing the ball away. Garcia has had almost two weeks to work on improving, but Spurrier said it is too soon to know if the freshman has actually made progress.

"Ask me after the game," he said. "We don't hit him in practice so he doesn't get sacked out here. When the game starts, hopefully he'll throw the ball away better."

Garcia has not been made available to the media this week, or during the bye week, after being allowed to speak only once leading up to the LSU game. Asked why Garcia has been off limits, Spurrier was blunt.

"You don't need to talk to him," said Spurrier. "He doesn't need any publicity."

On the injury front, there was good news and bad news for South Carolina. First, the good news was that tight end Jared Cook was able to practice, and should be near full strength on Saturday. Cook had been wearing a protective boot on his foot for the past week.

"Jared is much better," said Spurrier. "He was running around today and should be able to play."

Running backs Mike Davis and Eric Baker both practiced and are ready to play against the Vols. In particular, Baker could be in line for an increased role after getting just one carry against LSU. Baker suffered a concussion and fumbled on that play, and did not get back in the game.

"We need to let Eric play some this week and see what he can do," said Spurrier. "Hopefully he'll last longer than one play this game."

The news was less positive for offensive lineman Jamon Meredith, who is sidelined with a sprained ankle. On Monday, Spurrier reported that Meredith would likely be the third guard, but on Wednesday he said Meredith was unlikely to be able to contribute.

"He doesn't look very good," said Spurrier. In Meredith's absence, the backup guards are a pair of inexperienced tackles. "Hutch Eckerson's playing a little guard, and Kyle Nunn's capable."

The Gamecocks will be without freshman C.C. Whitlock, a freshman cornerback. Whitlock and several other players, whom Spurrier declined to identify, are on what the ball coach called the "academic team." Whitlock is being held out of practice to attend study hall until his grades improve.

"C.C. is on the academic team right now," said Spurrier. "We've got 5-6 guys on the academic reform team right now."

Spurrier also spoke about the decision to change the Arkansas game time from 7 PM to 1 PM. He admitted he had a role in changing the game time, but said it was a group decision.

"We all agreed that if we could do that it was better for all concerned," said Spurrier. "I think late in the year we need to play a few day games. I thought it was a good idea and I think our fans do too."

Johnson discusses preparations for Tennessee

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has piloted the Carolina defense to new heights in his first season in Columbia. The Gamecocks are currently ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, and Johnson was rewarded over the bye week with a contract extension.

"When I came here it was a situation where [Spurrier] was going to try to extend it at some point in time," Johnson said on Wednesday. "We were both here, things were going well, and all that, and he mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. I really appreciate the vote of confidence. It's a credit to these defensive coaches and all the kids too. I really appreciate it, and we're going to do all we can to show that."

Of course, like any successful coordinator, there is a chance he may become too successful to fulfill the contract. Johnson, who was the head coach at The Citadel from 2001-2003, has had his name brought up as a candidate for current and potential openings around the country. Johnson is not actively searching for another head coaching gig, but he said he would listen if someone called, and Carolina would allow him to leave.

"If I was fortunate enough to get a head coaching job, they would relieve me," he said. "Unless something unforeseen like that happens, this is where I want to be. There's so few jobs and so many great coaches that it's hard to come by. I enjoyed it when I was, but I really enjoy what I'm doing now too. If the opportunity came up, I'd love to just like most coaches."

Turning his attention to this week, Johnson is not taking any solace in the fact that Tennessee is struggling on offense, especially in the running game. The Volunteers are next to last in the conference in rushing, but that does not mean Johnson has not been prepping this week to stop the ground game.

"All the statistics and things can sometimes be misleading," said Johnson. "They've been in some ball games where the opponent got leads that make [them] change [their] plans. I haven't seen anybody just completely snuff out the running game. I'm not under any illusion that they're not capable of running the football. They're not trying to put the ballgame in that quarterback's hands."

Like many teams, Tennessee uses their version of the "Wild Hog" formation to help boost the running game. Wide receiver Gerald Jones occasionally lines up in the backfield for the Vols, taking snaps. Jones has carried 12 times for 63 yards, not overwhelming numbers, but enough to force the Gamecocks to prepare for the formation.

"We've got to prepare for it every week," Johnson said. "Everybody's got a kid on their team that's trying to do that. They've got Eric Berry, and he can do it too. It's not a problem knowing what to do, it's a matter of executing it. The speed of it is a problem sometimes."

Carolina has already faced one team that uses that formation extensively. Ole Miss used its "Wild Rebel" formation effectively in the loss earlier this season. That experience is helpful this week, although the similarities in how Ole Miss and Tennessee use the formation are mostly superficial.

"Everybody runs different schemes," Johnson explained. "Just because that guy's back there they aren't running the same plays. Ole Miss' has been polished a lot better than most people. Most people just put the guy back there and are running a sweep or a fake option. They don't execute it the way Ole Miss does with all the different variations and formations. Just having seen it, at least it's not something that's totally new to the kids."

There is a chance that Carolina could be short handed against Tennessee. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has been hampered this week with an illness. He is expected to play, but his effectiveness depends on how quickly he recovers. Johnson said he expects Munnerlyn to be fully recovered in as little as 24 hours, but if not other players will have to pick up the slack for Munnerlyn.

"He's not capable of playing 60 plays right now," said Johnson.

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