Spurrier, Gamecocks expecting close game

Steve Spurrier spoke Wednesday night for the final time before the Gamecocks take on arch rival Clemson. Carolina practiced Wednesday night, and will work out again Thursday and Friday before busing up to Clemson. Spurrier is not predicting a win for Carolina, but he nonetheless feels confident heading into the final week of the season.

"We're expecting a down to the wire game," he said. "All three of them since I've been here have been that way. It's two pretty even teams the way I see it, and the team that probably plays the best and the smartest should win."

South Carolina will be led by quarterback Chris Smelley. Smelley is not the fans' first choice to start behind center, but Spurrier has confidence in the redshirt sophomore.

"Chris has looked pretty good," said the Head Ball Coach. "He's looked good in practice a lot. He's thrown the ball well this week, and hopefully will make good decisions when and where to throw it.

"He's been playing almost every week since the first week of the season. Practice is important, but the game is what counts."

Behind Smelley, the quarterback position has become somewhat muddled. Stephen Garcia, who started against LSU and Tennessee, has been bothered by an illness this week. He returned to practice on Wednesday, but not soon enough to prevent Tommy Beecher, who started the season opener, from being anointed the backup quarterback.

"[Garcia] looked like he'd lost a little weight with that flu bug," said Spurrier. "Beecher right now is the backup. I think he's ready to play some. I think he'll step in there and play well if we need him."

In other injury news, freshman running back Eric Baker has been declared out this weekend. He suffered an ankle injury at the end of the Florida game that will prevent him from suiting up this weekend. In his place, Brian Maddox and Bobby Wallace will be the backup running backs. Maddox has been sidelined since midseason with a knee sprain, but he is now healthy and ready to play.

"Maddox is number two right now, and Bobby Wallace; they're co-number two after Mike [Davis]," said Spurrier. "[Maddox has] been out for a while so he's fresh. His legs are pretty good. He still wears that little knee brace, but he's looked close to full speed."

Lastly, Spurrier had a holiday message for the fans.

"Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially all of our super Gamecocks out there," he said. "We've got a lot to be thankful for: our team's very healthy, we're 7-4, so we've got a team that's very thankful."

Smelley confident in starting role

If you ask the Gamecock fans, Smelley is probably not the first choice to lead the team to a win over Clemson. Garcia gets most of the attention, and accolades, but Smelley is largely unaware of what the fans want. Asked how much support he has gotten since being named the starter, Smelley was fairly dismissive.

"I don't really know a ton of people around here," he said, "but I feel good and comfortable and ready to go."

After the embarrassing loss to Florida, the Gamecocks had a bye week. After a bad loss, most players want to get back on the field as soon as possible to redeem themselves, but that was not an option for Carolina. If anything, that has put added pressure on the rivalry game against Clemson, said Smelley.

"The team's had extra energy this week," he said, "and hopefully it will translate on Saturday."

The extra energy includes Smelley, who is ready to be the man against the Tigers. He insisted that knowing for two weeks he would be the starter did not change his approach, but he also feels confident heading up to Memorial Stadium.

"I've had a good week of practice," said Smelley. "I've been getting a lot of reps and I think the offense is starting to flow together pretty well. Hopefully we'll go out there and play like we've been practicing."

Cook focused on Clemson, not NFL possibilities

Junior tight end Jared Cook has been suspected to be an underclassman who may declare for the NFL draft early. Wednesday evening he discussed those suspicions with GamecockAnthem.com. He dismissed talk of draft positioning, saying that Clemson is all that matters.

"I really haven't heard anything [about the draft]," he said. "I'm really not worried about that right now. We've got the Clemson game coming up."

The NFL has a Draft advisory panel, which projects where underclassmen will be selected to help them decide whether to declare. When asked if would take advantage of that service, Cook had a blunt reply.

"I don't know," he said.

Turning focus to the game at hand, Cook made no bones about what a win over Clemson would mean for him personally and the team as a whole.

"It would mean a lot," said Cook. "Winning there two years ago, that is one of my biggest memories of my college career. It would be a big thing, but we just have to make sure that we do the things so that we can win."

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