Practice Report: Rivalry Week is Here

Following their second bye of the season, the big week is finally here for the Gamecocks. That's right, it is Thanksgiving Week. Oh, and there is some football game Saturday against some orange and purple team from the upstate. The weekend off was good for Carolina health-wise, with a pair of exceptions.

Defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn, Carlos Thomas, and Akeem Auguste all returned to practice Monday night after missing time last week thanks to nagging injuries. Running back Eric Baker also missed time last week, and returned to practice on Monday. However, he was seen limping after practice, and is questionable to play against Clemson. In his place, Brian Maddox, who is only recently removed from a knee injury, could see significant action with Baker out.

"He's limping a little bit," Steve Spurrier said of Baker. "Brian Maddox got some snaps tonight behind Mike Davis. He could possibly be our second tailback this week."

Absent practice Monday night was quarterback Stephen Garcia, who was out due to illness. He should return to practice soon and be available to play against Clemson, but Spurrier did not seem to worry too much about his backup quarterback.

"I imagine he'll be out there," he said dismissively. "We're going to give the game to Chris Smelley. We're going to give him the opportunity to go out there and play the entire game. We're hoping he can go the distance, and give him every opportunity to do that. We're out of the two quarterback thing. Chris knows more about our offense, so hopefully he will take care of the ball and lead our team to play the best we can."

Taking care of the ball is something Smelley has occasionally struggled with, throwing 11 interceptions this year. It was most evident against Florida, when he threw two interceptions in the first quarter. Those early turnovers contributed to a game that was over almost before it started. Spurrier believes that was an isolated incident and Smelley will play much better against Clemson.

"He hasn't done a whole bunch of that this year, so hopefully that was just some bad plays," he said.

The weekend off went a long way toward helping South Carolina get over the Florida loss. Although the Gamecocks have been inconsistent this year and have not had the breakout season some expected, Spurrier is focusing on the positives. Carolina has had a decent season, with a chance to finish with a win over their rival, go to a New Year's Day Bowl, and possibly reach nine wins.

"We're thankful we're 7-4," he said. "Some of our coaching buddies are saying we wish we were 7-4, so we're not sitting around here moaning or groaning about anything. If we finish strongly, we do have an opportunity to have an excellent season."

Special teams could be key against Clemson

In the last game out, Ray Rychleski's special teams unit had to go up against Brandon James, one of the most explosive return men in the country. Aside from one 39 yard punt return, James was largely held in check by the Gamecocks. This week, things do not get easier as Rychleski has to figure out a way to contain Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. Rychleski thinks the experience against James will help Carolina prepare for Spiller and Ford, although having Scott Spurrier portray Ford on the scout team may be a stretch ("I don't think Scotty can run like Jacoby," Papa Spurrier smiled.)

"C.J Spiller and Jacoby Ford are just like Brandon James, same kind of guys," Rychleski said. "It doesn't hurt [to have already played against James], and it only can help. I'm hoping it helps, because these guys are explosive."

Rychleski revealed Monday night he has a fool-proof way to keep the ball away from Spiller on kick returns.

"I'll tell Ryan [Succop] to kick it through the end zone," he said. "That would solve a lot of problems."

While that may not always be a realistic expectation, Rychleski does plan to take advantage of Succop's strong leg. He feels that the off-season decision to have Spencer Lanning punt instead of Succop has resulted in Succop having better leg strength at this stage of the season than he did last year. That will come in handy against a Clemson special teams unit that Rychleski feels is much improved over previous years thanks to first year coordinator Andre' Powell.

"In my opinion, Clemson has become very solid this year, [more] than in the past. Their special teams coordinator has done an excellent job," he said. "Over the years they've had some bad snaps, we [Maryland] blocked a punt on them in ‘04, and we had some really good returns against them over the years. I don't see that this year. I think they're a very well coached, solid special teams right now."

Despite the history of success against the Tigers, Rychleski does not feel too good about the upcoming game. When asked if his history against Clemson gave him confidence heading into the game, Rychleski said that is not the case.

"I wouldn't say that," he said. "We're on the road, we're underdogs. You're talking about C.J. Spiller who returned a kick on the number one team in the country. This team is very good, it's going to be a great challenge for us, and I think they're playing well in all phases right now."

Rychleski has come up with an interesting plan for negating Clemson's home-field advantage, and he shared that after practice.

"Hopefully some of our guys will be able to buy some extra tickets."

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