Gamecocks return to practice fields

The Gamecocks returned to the practice fields Monday night, newly bowl eligible following their 27-6 win over Tennessee last weekend. Becoming bowl eligible is hardly the end of the road for Carolina, though, as they learned the hard way last season that there is a lot to do besides reaching six victories. Next up is an improving Arkansas team that comes off a win over previously unbeaten Tulsa.

"We had a usual practice here," Spurrier said. "School's out tomorrow [for election day], Tuesday, so we'll actually have an extra 45 minutes or an hour with the guys."

Saturday's win over Tennessee was just the third time since joining the SEC that South Carolina has defeated the Vols, and the second time at home. For Tennessee, the poor showing in the loss was just the latest disappointment in a disappointing season. It was announced today that Phillip Fulmer will be replaced as head coach at the end of the season.

"I don't know whether to feel sorry for Coach or congratulate him on the biggest buyout in the history of college football," Spurrier said. "He got the best deal ever, I think. He won some games last year, so he got a good deal. Sixteen or seventeen years there is probably long enough. It wasn't working very well, so I think everybody understands when it starts going bad they've got to make a change. We all know that. But congratulate him on hitting that lottery ticket. That's a big ticket he got."

Spurrier went on to head off the obvious speculation that comes when any marquee job opens up. He plainly stated he is not a candidate for the Volunteer job.

"They'll hire a guy who wants to stay 10 or 15 years, which is probably what they should do really," he said.

Arkansas has had a disappointing season as well under first year head coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks struggled to score points or stop opponents early in the season. They have made steady improvement, though, culminating in a surprising win over a good Tulsa team that had been putting up spectacular offensive numbers.

"Arkansas is a team that has really improved as the season has progressed," said Spurrier. "They've lost some close ones like a lot of us, but they beat a very good Tulsa team last week and they're coming in here ready to play. It should be a heck of a game."

There were some serious injury concerns following the Tennessee game, with starters Stephen Garcia and Lemuel Jeanpierre, as well as backup running back Eric Baker all leaving the game with injuries. Baker suffered a thigh bruise, while Garcia and Jeanpierre suffered knee inuries on a play where Garcia threw an interception. The news on all three was positive, though Jeanpierre will miss the rest of the season but not require surgery.

"[Garcia] and Eric Baker are alright," said Spurrier. "Lem was the only one of the three laid out that [missed practice]. He's not even requiring surgery. I thought he'd torn everything. We had three guys laying there like they were dead and two of them are out practicing tonight. The pain threshold on some of these guys is a little different than in our day."

Garcia did not speak to reporters after practice, but as he walked off the field he said he was "fine." He was wearing a brace on his right knee.

With Jeanpierre out, South Carolina is very thin at guard. Terrence Campbell will continue to be the starter at one guard position, but Jeanpierre's injury opens a hole at the other spot. Jamon Meredith continues to be hampered by an ankle injury and will not be back in the starting lineup. As of Monday, the new starter at guard will be little-used former tackle Hutch Eckerson.

"We put Hutch Eckerson in there," Spurrier said. "So Hutch has gone from scout team to starter."

One player who will not factor in is former starting guard heath Batchelor. Batchelor has been suspended for a violation of team rules, and will not be returning to the team this season.

"Heath has got some issues," Spurrier said. "He will be dropping out of school. He's got some medical issues and has been advised to drop out. Hopefully he will be back in January."

Spurrier did not elaborate on the medical issues.

Rychleski pleased with effort against Tennessee

The Gamecocks had a banner week on special teams against Tennessee. Chris Culliver broke off a career-long 67 yard kick return, Ryan Succop made both his field goal attempts and had touchbacks on four of his six kickoffs, Akeem Auguste forced a fumble on punt coverage, and punter Spencer Lanning was named SEC Special Teams Player of the week.

"Coach [Spurrier] gave him a game ball right after, and I was like, ‘I don't know how good he really did,'" said special teams coach Ray Rychleski. "But Coach saw what he really did and then I watched the film and it was outstanding. He had good height and we covered well because he had good height. I'm very proud of him, but also he should be proud of Chris Hail and Akeem [Auguste] and all of the guys on the punt team because they covered his punts very well."

Rychleski went on to say that he may have found the key to getting such a good performance out of Lanning.

"Spencer, he really had a lousy warm up," he said. "So now I know when he has a lousy warm up he'll give us a very good game."

Rychleski was quick to point out that Lanning had help. Punting is as much of a team play as any in football, requiring protection, a good kick, and good coverage. The Gamecocks got all three against Tennessee.

"That was the most excited I've been since I've been here," Rychleski raved. "That punt team is my baby, and we haven't performed up to the way I think we can perform. We did on Saturday night. We got great gunner play Saturday night."

One of those gunners is Chris Hail. Hail has struggled to find a role with the Gamecocks, bouncing between cornerback and wide receiver. He is an outstanding athlete, but the coaches have made no secret of the fact that his attitude and off the field behavior have held him back. Hail has managed to find a home on special teams and has excelled there.

"He has done very, very well," said Rychleski. "Chris' problems are off the field, and that's what's holding him back from being a great player on offense or defense. He's done very well for us and I can't say enough about the kid. I want him to do well because I want him to mature as a young man, and maybe special teams is the way he can mature."

Hail was not the only Chris making big special teams plays on Saturday. Culliver's career-long kickoff return came at a key point, just after the Vols scored their only touchdown.

"Chris hit it really good," said Rychleski. "The kicker slowed him down just enough. We were a little bit unlucky right there. The thing I was a little worried about with Chris, he changed the ball with his hands and almost fumbled the ball himself. Two key blocks on that thing [were] Stephen Flint, who we put out there for the first time, and Akeem Auguste got a pancake block. The biggest thing about that play was the momentum. They scored and we came right back on them. That was exciting for our team."

Elsewhere, Succop seemed to break out of his slump by making both of his official field goal attempts. He did miss one attempt that was nullified by a penalty on the defense, but Rychleski is proud of how Succop has performed. Despite Spurrier's insistence that Succop is healthy, Rychleski said that Succop continues to suffer from an abdominal strain suffered a month ago.

"He's got this injury that is not going to go away for the rest of the season," Rychleski said.

It is not all roses in the special teams meetings, though. Rychleski is not pleased with the performance of the punt return unit. Carolina is last in the SEC in punt return, although there are mitigating factors. A few short punts have bounced off blockers, including one at Vanderbilt that was recovered by the Commodores and one against Tennessee that returner Captain Munnerlyn was able to fall on. Plus, opposing punters seem to always manage to uncork a career-long against the Gamecocks.

"It seems like people are just punting the hell out of the ball against us," Rychleski sighed. "We definitely have to improve the punt return. Right now that is our bugaboo. A couple of things have happened. We've messed up a couple punts. We've been a little unlucky, but we can definitely get better. We need to make a big play in that area."

After the Tennessee game, Spurrier suggested that Rychleski deserved a pay raise similar to the one defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson got during the bye week. Rychleski was not in the room for Spurrier's comment, but he got word of the Ball Coach's praise.

"I was all for that," he smiled. "Nobody's talked to me, but I'm all for it. Here's the problem: you guys [the media] are all patting me on the back, [but] you're just softening up the spot to put the knife in."

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