Spurrier: CU game important on many levels

Steve Spurrier held his final Tuesday press conference of the year this week to preview the season-ending game against arch-rival Clemson. For many fans of either team, rivalry week is a season unto itself. But while Spurrier agrees that this is the biggest game of the year, he is focused more on the big picture and what a win this week would mean for the season and the program.

"It's always helpful to win your last game: for whatever reason people remember the last game you play a lot more than how you played five weeks or four weeks earlier," Spurrier said. "The fact is we're in the same position that we talked about that we could be going into the Clemson game at possibly 7-4 with an opportunity to really have a big year."

The Gamecocks are already assured of playing in a bowl game, but they would feel a lot better about their bowl profile if they beat Clemson. Not only would it give Carolina eight wins instead of seven, but a win would prevent the Gamecocks from having to overcome the hangover from another season-ending swoon, and give them momentum heading into recruiting season.

"8-4 is a lot better than 7-5, no question about that," said Spurrier. "We had our best recruiting year after winning our last three [in 2006]. Certainly if we're lucky to win our last two this year it would really help."

Although Spurrier is typically loathe to talk about the other team, he cannot ignore the fact that Clemson needs to beat Carolina to become bowl eligible. If Clemson can win, it could have a calming effect on a program in turmoil. It would continue to establish their dominance over the Gamecocks on the field, which could help them hold onto their reputation as a superior program. On the other hand, if Clemson loses, Carolina would establish superiority in the state for at least the next year, and could worsen the turmoil in Tiger-Town. When presented with all these hypotheticals, though, Spurrier had a characteristically sly response.

"We could have done that last year," he said. "We didn't quite do that. We're just going to try to win the game."

In spite of all the off the field drama that always surrounds this week, there is still a game to be played. If there is a South Carolina game to be played, it means there is a quarterback controversy to discuss. After starting three quarterbacks this season, and rotating signal callers on every play in the last two games, Spurrier has decided to go with starter number two, Chris Smelley, against the Tigers. That decision has many Gamecocks fans up in arms because they want to see Stephen Garcia behind center. Spurrier is aware that the fans want to see Garcia, but he just wants to win.

"The fans need to come watch the tapes with us someday and see where Stephen is lost at times," said Spurrier. "The fans probably think every time he takes off running, nobody's open and he had to, [when] he should have stayed in there and thrown the ball somewhere. That's just some things he'll hopefully learn before next year."

It does not help Garcia's cause that he is bothered with an illness this week and was not expected to practice Tuesday. With Garcia sidelined, Tommy Beecher (starter number one, for those keeping track), is slotted as the backup quarterback. Garcia could still see action for a few snaps, on plays that specifically call for his athletic ability.

Regardless of who lines up behind center, Spurrier wants to get more out of his running game. Carolina has failed to get a consistent rushing attack going at any point this season. The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging just 98.9 yards per game, almost 15 yards below the 11th place team, Arkansas. Spurrier wants to be able to run the ball to take pressure off Smelley, and to chew up the clock and help his defense by keeping the Clemson offense off the field.

"We must do that this game," he said. "We can't just go throw; we're not a good enough passing team or pass protection team to say we're going to throw it up and down the field. We've got to try to mix it up the best we can. We did that two years ago."

Last time Spurrier visited Memorial Stadium, the Gamecocks had one of their best offensive outings since he arrived. That game still went down to the wire, with Clemson's Jad Dean missing a last second field goal to tie the game. This year, Spurrier can only hope Smelley can lead the offense to a similar outcome.

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