Rich Glickstein/Associated Press file photo
Rich Glickstein/Associated Press file photo
Coach Steve Spurrier said No. 3 South Carolina has high goals for this season, and several are much bigger than starting 6-0 or dominating Georgia.
The Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) moved to their highest ranking in 28 years – and into discussions about SEC and national titles – after their 35-7 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
South Carolina had one of the more complete performances of Spurrier’s eight seasons. None of it, Spurrier reminded people Tuesday, will matter if the Gamecocks don’t stay focused on their next challenge: playing at No. 9 LSU on Saturday night.
“We are getting some national attention,” the coach said. “That’s what we all like, but it can turn south on you if you don’t watch it.”
Spurrier knows that too well. South Carolina pulled off a stunning upset of then No. 1 Alabama, 35-21, in October of 2010. A game later, the Gamecocks blew an 18-point halftime lead to lose at Kentucky, 31-28.
Spurrier blames himself and his staff for not coaching very well after halftime.
“Our guys were ready to play, ready to play,” he said. “We had them up 28-10 and pooped around the second half.”
It’s easy to lose focus when so many people are praising the Gamecocks, which is happening all around South Carolina’s campus.
Safety D.J. Swearinger said a teacher asked him to the front of the room so his nearly 200 classmates could applaud him for South Carolina’s win over Georgia.
That’s heady stuff for a team not used to big-time success. But Swearinger said neither his head, nor those of his teammates, will be turned by the attention.
Swearinger told the defensive players at Monday’s practice they could not afford to dwell on last week’s victory, not with an angry bunch of LSU Tigers ahead.
“We’ve got a bigger task at hand than Kentucky” two years ago, Swearinger said.
LSU, the defending SEC champions, hopes to rebound from its first loss of the season, 14-6, at No. 4 Florida last Saturday. Tigers coach Les Miles said the players quickly want to put the defeat behind them and get back to winning.
“For the first time in a year and a half we are talking about regular-season loss,” Miles said. “And it is miserable for us.”
South Carolina has struggled, like many SEC teams, against LSU. The Gamecocks are 1-4-1 against the Tigers since joining the league in 1992, their only victory at Death Valley coming 18 years ago.
Chalk up another challenge, South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said.
“I feel like we’ve got something to prove on the road,” he said.
Quarles and Swearinger are among South Carolina’s upperclassmen who have kept a steady hand on the team through its rise this season, Spurrier said. The pair also are close friends and former Greenwood High School teammates of LSU defensive lineman Sam Montgomery.
Quarles said the two have talked this week, wishing each other good luck and looking forward to seeing each other in person.
“We’ve got a brotherly bond,” Quarles said. “It’s going to be fun.”
The ole ballcoach sure is having a good time, despite his calm, focused talk.
This week, he recalled going 3-0 against LSU while playing quarterback for Florida in the 1960s, joked how fortunate the Gamecocks will be to have star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for three years before he’s NFL eligible – “At Kentucky (basketball), they get them only one year, and they’re happy,” Spurrier said – and even got in a dig at state rival Clemson, which also has nicknamed its football stadium, Death Valley.
“Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley. That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one?” Spurrier said wise. “There’s two of them? That’s right, there’s two Death Valleys.”
Spurrier said his team’s fast offensive start against Georgia – the Gamecocks led 21-0 with less than nine minutes gone in the game – put the Bulldogs on their heels and gave South Carolina’s defense the chance to make plays.
The Gamecocks’ D kept Georgia off the scoreboard until a meaningless touchdown in the game’s final two minutes.
“When one team gets hot, scores on the first two or three possessions, you got an excellent defense, it can happen,” he said. “But you don’t ever plan for it. You plan for a down-to-the-wire game being won in the fourth quarter.”
That’s what Spurrier’s expecting against LSU on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. He’s working this week to make sure his team’s prepared for that, too.
“We’re just trying to guard against going south and that we’re totally ready to play this week,” Spurrier said.
Brett Flashnick/Associated Press file photo
Phil Sandlin/Associated Press file photo