Gamecocks still learning as opener draws near

The Gamecocks' Saturday evening practice could've gone better, according to Head Coach Steve Spurrier. With only five days left until the team opens its season against N.C. State on national television, Spurrier says a lot of coaching still needs to be done. One of the positives coming out of practice was the fact that starting defensive end Cliff Matthews returned and practiced at full speed.

"We put in a little bit of a game plan (tonight), but not a whole lot of new plays or anything like that," Steve Spurrier said of his team's preparation for the Wolfpack following Saturday's workout.

With several young players penciled in as starters, and others that are expected to make an impact coming off the bench, Spurrier claims that the learning will continue throughout the season as these young players garner more and more experience.

"We had some miscommunications again tonight, so our guys need to keep learning. We have to coach all the way through the ball game. Our guys are not quite ready yet," he said. "I wish we were practicing a little bit better right now, but we've still got a little time to get better."

Spurrier remarked that the team will be facing quite a tough challenge on Thursday as the Wolfpack will carry some late season momentum from last year into the upcoming season.

"They're a dang good team. They won five of their last seven games last season," noted Spurrier.

Last season South Carolina was fortunate to defeat the Wolfpack in Columbia despite an atrocious offensive performance for three quarters, and looking back, Spurrier cited the loss of N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson as an integral part of that victory.

"We were probably fortunate that their quarterback got knocked out in the first or second quarter," he said. "Our offense sputtered all over the place until the fourth quarter when we made a few plays here or there."

Great defense is required to shut out an opponent, and the fifth-year head coach says the "Goon Squad" did just that last year.

"Our defense played extremely well the whole game, obviously to get the shutout."

With last year's game a distant memory, Spurrier cautioned that this year's N.C. State squad is a much different team.

"They have a good defensive line, as good as any in the ACC from what I hear. The quarterback is very good. They've got two good running backs. They've got a good team," he stated. "We're underdogs, you know that. We've got to play hard and play very well."

Culliver looking to make big impact in his return home

Defensive back Chris Culliver will return to the state of North Carolina to play in front of several dozen family and friends when the Gamecocks travel up to Raleigh on Thursday evening. The Garner, North Carolina native says that he's looking forward to putting on a good performance in front of those who will travel to Carter-Finley Stadium to watch him and the Gamecocks play, and he noted it will be interesting to play against a team that he at one time planned to play for.

"It's really exciting for me to be going back home and play in front of a bunch of family and friends," Culliver began. "At one point in time I was actually committed to play for N.C. State, but I know that I ended up in Columbia for a reason and I'm just going to try and go up there and help us get a win."

In last year's game against the Wolfpack, Culliver was able to play against N.C. State's starting quarterback Russell Wilson for only a short period before Wilson was forced to leave the game with an injury. However, Culliver says that he was impressed with what he saw from the Wolfpack signal-caller and that he expects Wilson to be in top form come Thursday.

"I'll expect a lot from (Wilson) in the game. He'll have more experience and be more mature, and I think that he'll probably look to stay in the pocket longer than last year. But I know he still likes to scramble and we've got to make sure that we're disciplined so that we can contain him running. We'll just have to buckle down and see what we can do."

Culliver is being cross-trained at cornerback this preseason, along with his natural position of free safety. He claims that he could line up at both of those positions throughout the opening game and that he's willing to play wherever he is asked to in order to help the team win.

"Playing cornerback has been going pretty good, and I think Coach (Lorenzo) Ward wants me to play there really bad. I'm up for playing wherever the team needs me," said Culliver.

Barnes trying to remain optimistic about playing time

After the Gamecocks' final scrimmage last Saturday, sophomore wide receiver Jason Barnes was demoted to second team after spending most of last year along with the bulk of the preseason working with the first team.

"We've got a bunch of new plays that we've just put in and I just hope that I can get in there and play," Barnes said with a reluctant tone after Saturday's practice. "I thought I was doing pretty good, I really don't know what happened. I haven't practiced with the first team in over a week and it's kind of frustrating, but I'm just trying to go out there and give it my all. You're never happy when you get demoted, but it is what it is."

Barnes stated this his fate on the depth chart is in the coaches hands, and he is still hoping his hard work will pay off.

"It's never in my control about how much they play me. It's Coach Spurrier's decision about who's going to go out there and play," he said. "I just hope he chooses me so that I can show everyone what I can do."

When asked if he believed the younger wide receivers were putting more pressure on him and the other veterans to perform, Barnes proclaimed that he never feels pressure like that.

"The younger receivers don't put any pressure on me at all," stated Barnes. "I really don't know what happened. I'd like to know the answers to the questions, just like you guys would. "

Barnes ended his time with the media by concluding that he hopes his demotion is a motivational tactic used by the coaching staff.

"I hope it's a motivational thing, I pray to God it's a motivational thing," he said. "The coaches haven't really told me why I was demoted... nothing at all."

Notes: - After missing the past few practices due to illness, defensive end Cliff Matthews returned to practice and was "full go" according to Spurrier.

- Spurrier said wide receiver Dion LeCorn "may be able to suit up" for the opener, but he's not expected to contribute. Spurrier stated, "The trainers say he should be ready in a couple weeks or so."

- Spurrier noted that quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Zac Brindise are rotating with the third team offense.

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