COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier likes what undefeated South Carolina has accomplished so far. He knows, though, the third-ranked Gamecocks have plenty of games left that will determine how special the season turns out.
South Carolina (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) jumped up three spots Sunday to its highest position since 1984 after a dominating 35-7 victory over No. 14 Georgia on Saturday night. The Gamecocks reached a number of milestones, winning their school-record 10th consecutive game and taking three in a row from the Bulldogs for the first time with the sort of performance that fuels national title talk.
“We realized if we won the game last night, this could happen,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier handled those sky-high expectations much of his 12 seasons at Florida from 1990-2001, bringing his alma mater a national championship in 1996. Spurrier says this group of Gamecocks is his most complete and mature group since he took control of things here in 2005. All that doesn’t guarantee perfection in the unpredictable world of college football.
“We certainly like where we are right now, but we’re smart enough to know it’s still a difficult, difficult road for us,” Spurrier said.
That starts this week with the Gamecocks heading to No. 9 LSU to face a Tiger team angry from its season’s first loss at No. 4 Florida and carrying the advantage of a night game at Death Valley.
“They’ll be ready for us,” Spurrier said. “They’re ready for everybody.”
When Spurrier arrived, he thought too much time was spent tracking state rival Clemson and not focused on the Southeastern Conference. He got both players and fans to chase a league title.
He also knew the Gamecocks couldn’t let the state’s best players, such as receiver A.J. Green, keep heading off to Georgia. So Spurrier landed the past four winners of the state’s “Mr. Football” award. Those included tailback Marcus Lattimore and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Lattimore and Clowney showed their worth against the Bulldogs. Lattimore gained 109 yards while Clowney led a defensive effort that held the SEC’s highest scoring team coming in scoreless for 58 minutes.
Clowney said the noise from a record 85,199 people at Williams-Brice Stadium was so overwhelming, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had to tap his center on the backside to get the snaps off – and it gave South Carolina defenders the chance to tee off. “I couldn’t hear, so I knew they couldn’t hear,” Clowney said with a laugh.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said the Gamecocks quickly got ahead by three touchdowns in the first quarter and the Bulldogs couldn’t catch up. “Being down 21-0 in the first quarter, that’s hard” to come back from, Jones said. “Especially by a team in the SEC.”
Spurrier has a rule in place, like many coaches, that his staff and players get 24 hours to celebrate success or flush out failure. Then it’s back to work, no matter what happened in the previous game.
“That’s the way this team works. That’s the system coach Spurrier has in place and that’s the way the players will handle it,” South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
It might be hard to totally forget this one, especially with happy students and fans on campus telling the Gamecocks how great they’ve been. Spurrier understands and accepts that, too.
The last time Spurrier’s Gamecocks enjoyed this large a spotlight came in 2010 after a stunning 35-21 win over then top-ranked Alabama. South Carolina then lost a week later, 31-28, at Kentucky, a defeat Spurrier blames more on a stalled second-half offense than players not being ready. “I blame the coaches for that one,” he said.
This time, the Gamecocks have better, older leaders who’ve kept the team even-keeled through the high times and the low. “You really don’t ever know anything until you go play the game,” Spurrier said. “But we’ve got some good leaders.”
Leaders, Spurrier thinks, who’ll keep locked on to the next opponent while understanding that success won’t guarantee anything beyond that. “We do have a chance for a big year,” Spurrier said. “If we continue on doing what we’re doing.”