COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier had a simple plan for No. 12 South Carolina’s bye week – improve the Gamecocks’ performance across the board.
South Carolina’s coach has had issues with nearly every aspect of the team’s play in its first three games and said the players worked hard last week to correct mistakes. The Gamecocks (2-1) return to action at undefeated Central Florida (3-0) on Saturday.
Spurrier found enough breakdowns in all areas to work on during the week off.
“Worked on covering kickoffs. Worked on punt return. Been working on those all year though so that was nothing new,” he said Tuesday. “Worked on offense, defense, things like that. That was about it.”
Spurrier has been especially bothered by the Gamecocks play on special teams, a strength last year because of speedy return man Ace Sanders, who led the Southeastern Conference in punt returns and brought two back for touchdowns.
This year, the Gamecocks are near the bottom in most league special teams’ categories. Spurrier got so angry during a fumble kickoff and muff punt in the last game against Vanderbilt, he threw his visor – something usually reserved for botched plays on offense.
The defense has also struggled, despite having All-American Jadeveon Clowney as its focal point. The Gamecocks have allowed 76 points through three games, nearly three times more than the 29 they gave up during their 3-0 start a year ago.
Spurrier even took issue with the offense, which totaled more than 1,000 yards of offense its past two games (454 yards vs. Georgia and 579 against Vanderbilt) and is on pace for a school-record performance at nearly 480 yards a game this season. Quarterback Connor Shaw is fourth in SEC total offense and hasn’t thrown an interception.
“He’s playing well, but there’s a lot of plays he can do better,” Spurrier said.
The coach is wants the Gamecocks to stay focused for the upcoming nonconference road trip, which outside of going to rival Clemson every other year, has only happened three times in Spurrier’s nine seasons, Those three trips were to the state of North Carolina.
“A lot of them down there say this might be the biggest game they’ve ever had in the history of the school,” Spurrier said of UCF. “Got an opportunity if they win to obviously jump into the Top 25 and have a chance to maybe beat everyone on their schedule. They’re a good team. So it’s a huge game for all of us.”
The Gamecocks also are trying to keep sharp for even bigger games down the road. They face six straight SEC opponents after this one and, having lost to Georgia 41-30 on Sept. 6, know they’ll have to be at their best.
South Carolina might even hope to get a little help in the SEC Eastern Division race when No. 6 LSU travels to play the ninth-ranked Bulldogs.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Shaw said. “We’ve to worry about UCF.”
To Spurrier, there’s plenty to worry about. UCF, also off a bye week, defeated Penn State 34-31 in its last game and moved to 3-0 for the first time since 1988.
“I told Jadeveon, you need to get in better shape,” Spurrier joked. “It’s going to be a hot day.”
The Knights know they’ll have their hands full, as well, with South Carolina and Clowney, who had his second sack and forced a crucial fumble against Vanderbilt two weeks back.
“They’re a great defense, all around,” UCF quarterback Blake Bortles said. “We’ve just got to be sharp in our game plan, sharp in our protections and making sure we’re in the right spots at the right time.”
The stadium is sold out and the Gamecocks understand they’ll have to play at a very high level.
“Their crowd is going to be loud and screaming but we’ve been in those situations before,” Spurrier said. “If you’re going to have a good team, you’re going to have to go into those places and beat the other team. So we know what to expect. Whether or not we can do it, that’s why we play the games.”
Associated Press reporter Kyle Hightower contributed to this report from Orlando, Fla.