Originally created 08/31/99

Holtz knows special teams must come through

COLUMBIA -- Lou Holtz bristled recently when informed he couldn't acquire game film of last Saturday's game between Texas and North Carolina State.

His problem with the television broadcast was that it offered a limited view, but South Carolina's coach didn't need any wide-angle lens or special film to tell him the obvious:

Special teams can kill -- especially those of the Wolfpack, which used three blocked punts in its opener to sap the favored Longhorns, 23-20. As the Gamecocks begin preparations for Saturday's game at N.C. State (7:30 p.m., ESPN), Holtz knows things could unravel quickly if the Wolfpack's block party continues.

"N.C. State comes after you hard and they come after you very, very well," Holtz said Monday at his weekly press conference. "They do an excellent job of it. My players, I'm not sure how important they understood the kicking game is. But I think they have a pretty good idea now."

The Wolfpack entered the game nearly a 10-point underdog and was out-gained by 200 yards, but the three blocked kicks -- one for a safety, the other two for touchdowns -- allowed it to pull off its third monumental upset in as many years. Florida State and Syracuse were the others.

While special teams might sometimes be pushed aside in favor of strength and conditioning during preseason drills, Holtz said he's placed adequate emphasis on his field goal, punt and kickoff teams in the spring and summer. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's happy with it.

"Even though we've worked hard on it, we're just not very mature in that area," said Holtz, who inherited a team that gave up three blocked punts the past two seasons. "I don't have a lot of confidence in that phase of the game against North Carolina State."

Don't assume that special teams are the extent of Holtz's concerns. The Gamecocks are a battered, fragile unit dealing with the loss of senior free safety Arturo Freeman, who will miss at least four weeks because of a ruptured spleen. Injured offensive linemen Kevin Rivers and former Strom Thurmond standout Jason Cox will sit out Saturday's game, and the status of leading receiver Jermale Kelly, whose father died last week, is uncertain.

Add to that the fact 11 freshmen were on the Gamecocks' two-deep chart released Monday, and things could get out of hand quickly in Raleigh.

Holtz said he took in the full slate of college football games from home last weekend. His fear? That the turnover-ridden affairs served as previews.

"There were 32 turnovers in five games and six blocked kicks," he said. "Penn State was the only one to have one turnover. The biggest improvement you make is from the first game to the second. Thirty-two turnovers in five football games is an awfully high number, but it's not uncharacteristic of a first game."

Larry Williams covers the Southeastern Conference for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or at larrywill7@yahoo.com.


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