Q&A: Spurrier previews Kentucky

Coach Steve Spurrier met with the media for his weekly press conference on Tuesday, speaking on the Gamecocks upcoming matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats. Spurrier will be looking to improve to 17-0 against the ‘Cats for his career, while Carolina hopes to continue its nine game winning streak in the series.


Spurrier's Opening Statement:

"Okay, (we are) looking forward to our fourth straight home game. (The) Kentucky Wildcats come to town, eastern division, SEC conference game. Hopefully we can play a little bit better, especially on offense than we did the last game. But we've not played super all year really, and we're still trying to figure out who our best players are. We still have some line changes and so forth. We're looking forward to playing Kentucky, (they are) a very good team. They've won two straight bowl games, two years in a row at Kentucky, something that a lot of people can't say they've ever done. And they've had to just play Florida and Alabama the last two weeks, that's why they're 2-2. If they'd had a little bit different schedule, they could come in here 4-1 just like us. But they've already played those two teams, we'll play them later on in the year. But they're a very good team, and we've had a lot of close ones with them, been fortunate to get a play or two in the past, and hopefully we can get a play or two this week. We're looking forward to another hard fought, close game against Kentucky. Saturday afternoon, 12:30 TV game, and I think our fans will be ready to scream and yell. We're going to need them again this week."

Question: You mentioned that you're still looking for your best players. Obviously now you're approaching the halfway point of the season, how long is it going to take before you finally say these are our best players?

Spurrier: "It's going to take a while. (We've) got to give them all a chance to play. Some of them are just learning the offense and the defense, a lot of young guys that (are) just learning how to play. So it's going to take a while. We're certainly not a final product team; we don't have a group of fourth and fifth year players out there playing. So, we'll keep giving the players an opportunity and go from there."

Question: Steve, you talked about the red zone problems in particular, and I was wondering, (does) the fact that you're dealing with a lot of young guys, does that factor in? Do they get maybe a little anxious down there, a little excited?

Spurrier: "Well, we didn't have any problems last week as much as we had in the past. But no, I don't think that's it. I just think we've not run it very well, maybe not thrown it very well down there, and maybe we should've had some better plays on down there."

Question: Is Garcia right on track where you thought he would be or is he a little bit maybe ahead?

Spurrier: "He's doing some better things, yeah he is doing some better things. We certainly hope and believe that he can continue advancing and continue maybe throwing the ball a little bit more accurately here and there. But he did throw some good ones the second half last week, and that was encouraging and we need to throw real good passes, you know, close to perfect passes. The receivers are running decent routes; we can always get better there. Pass protection can always get better, of course. But we're still working on it, we're certainly not there. We may not be there for a while, but we're working on it. Working hard. Fortunately we've got a real good defense, and we don't have to score every time we touch it. And if we play smart and take care of the ball, which is something we've done very well. As most of you know, I think we've had one turnover every game. Heck, we had four in the first half of the first game last year, somebody told me, so we've come a long way. We were minus eight or nine I think after four or five games. So turnovers are really something that's helped us win those close games."

Question: Two part question. Any concern at all about the team reacting negatively to being in the top 25, and then also is there anything in particular you tell them whenever the team hits the top 25 for the first time in a season?

Spurrier: "No, we haven't really talked about that that much, and hopefully our players don't read too many newspapers, but our players know from the coaches that we didn't play near our best last game. We haven't played our best all year yet, so we know this is going to be a struggle just like all of our games are. It doesn't really matter who the opponent is, (it) just seems to be a struggle. Maybe it's good for us though. Maybe, you know we mentally say, ‘Hey it's going to be a close game,' and if it gets tight, hopefully we can make a play there towards the end. We've been pretty good in the third quarter for some reason. We've outscored our opponents by a bunch in the third quarter, so we have to come out the second half a little bit better prepared to play. We're going to try to get prepared to play the first quarter this week if we can, and go from there."

Question: Coach, if you do get off to a fast start Saturday, is there a possibility we'll see some of those players you want to rotate in there pretty early on?

Spurrier: "Listen, Kentucky is a good team. This is not, well when you get ahead, put some players in. I tried to say that even against South Carolina State, I don't think some of our players believed it would be a tough football game. But us coaches did, and we know this is going to be a good one here. When I say, put the players in, right now those three running backs, all three of them averaged around six yards a carry last week. They were all pretty similar. They all missed some blocks, they all did some good things. Kenny Miles will start, we thought he ran with the ball (a) little bit better maybe. But we've still got a lot of young guys playing. I think Coach Wolford's got a new offensive line ready to go this week. He wasn't very pleased with the way a few of those guys played. It's just where we are, we don't have established stars. When they establish themselves as star players, they'll get to play about the whole game right there at their position."

Question: Steve, the turnover margin you mentioned, how much of that is just a product of Stephen making better decisions with the ball?

Spurrier: "A lot of it is. A lot is good fortune. He still rolls back to the right or left and throws to the inside sometimes, and he had `almost picks', but they weren't picks. So, but he only did it about once a game, so he's getting better at not doing that. But he is taking care of the ball a little bit better."

Question: What about the backs holding onto the ball?

Spurrier: "Yeah, the backs are taking care of the ball, which is something Coach Jay Graham really works on and stresses. We do a ball security drill this year, I don't know if it's helpful or not. We try to hold onto the ball and fall on a fumble correctly, just little things like that. I think we should actually do more of those fundamental drills like wide receivers blocking and things of that nature. We're still not a great blocking team all around. Blocking and tackling are the two biggest parts of football, and sometimes as coaches you probably don't practice that as much as you should. But anyway, the running backs have done a super job taking care of the ball."

Question: Coach, can you talk about how impressed you've been with Spencer Lanning stepping in for Ryan Succop this year?

Spurrier: " Yeah, we had confidence that Spencer would do a very good job (this year). Certainly he has. He kicked well all preseason, and the first game had a bad snap and he missed one, but fortunately it didn't cost us the game and he's made them all since. We have confidence in Lanning. He's a solid person. He enjoys working out, and he enjoys trying to make tackles on punts and things of that nature. He's a football player. He's really a good athlete. Guys love him because he's a committed athlete."

Question: With the turnover takeaway thing, is that frustrating as a coach because I'm sure you worked on that stuff a year ago when you weren't too good in that department, and I'm sure you've worked on it this year when you are doing much better. Does it just seem to just come and go?

Spurrier: "We're running the ball better. We're still taking some sacks, or getting sacks. We opened the gates on Stephen two or three times where we didn't block very well. Our protection needs to get better. But we're running the ball better so we're not sitting there, second and twelve quite as often. But anyway, we've talked about it, tried to emphasize it and Stephen is a lot smarter with the ball than he was last year."

Question: Steve, is there anything to your perfect record against Kentucky that your team can use as motivation?

Spurrier: "No, we don't talk about that at all. Every game stands on its own that year. I've always believed that. One of the Kentucky guys asked me about that. I said obviously at Florida we've had the better team every time we've played them. Here it's been pretty even. We're pretty even with Kentucky. We've seemed to get the good turnovers and get the good breaks in the close games. I told our guys last year, we were talking about last year we blocked a field goal and scored, and Captain Munnerlyn ran a kickoff back. It was a close game, and we got some big plays on special teams, two big plays. We did block a field goal last week which was very important. Eric Norwood got a hand on it and preserved a 10-point lead at the time."

Question: Coach, you mentioned communication issues with Stephen Garcia. It looked like he might have had a couple of checks to Moe Brown for those touchdowns. Is that improving, did it improve last week?

Spurrier: "Yeah it did. Our right guard jumped offside twice when we were trying to audible, I don't know if you noticed that. That's something we've got to work on. We're still working on it."

Question: Steve, do you see the Kentucky program and your program as being pretty similar?

Spurrier: "Yeah probably, pretty close. They're probably a little bit like us in their number one goal is to have a winning season and go to a bowl game, win a bowl game. Certainly they hope some day to have a team that can win the SEC just like we do. They've had some good teams. They haven't quite challenged for the SEC, and we haven't either, (but) we're working on it. We're getting a lot more competitive than the past. We'll find out through the next six games, all conference games as we go. This is a big one for us right here Saturday afternoon."

Question: The fact that it's the first day game of the year, do you coach differently in the day than you do at night?

Spurrier: "We encourage our players to start getting to bed a little earlier, we think a lot of them stay up past midnight goofing off like most college kids do. We'll pretty much wake up, go to the pregame meal at 8:30, and then come on over and start getting ready to play. Probably our best two game stretch last year was Ole Miss and Kentucky, two 12:30 games. I've always said it doesn't matter what time we play. They don't ask you when you want to play anyway, they tell you. We look forward to the early start."

Question: Steve, what's your take on the excessive celebration penalties that have been called this year, and I guess the SEC came out and said they blew the one at Georgia?

Spurrier: "I've always thought they shouldn't have put it in, because you give the referee too much discretion. You give them the opportunity, so if they want to call something they can say, ‘Yeah that's too much.' I think it has to be really excessive, but the refs have the option. I don't like any penalties where the refs have the option, well ‘In my opinion (that was too much).' It was unfortunate for Georgia and of course for LSU that that cost them. I don't like that penalty. You've just got to tell your guys don't do anything, flip it to the ref, and come over to the bench and you can do your acting and celebrating. We're trying to discourage careless penalties."

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