Originally created 09/14/99

Gamecocks hope to avoid third straight loss



COLUMBIA -- Through 27 years of coaching college football, seldom has Lou Holtz presided over a team whose wounds were self-inflicted.

All that has changed in the first two games of the 62-year-old's newest undertaking at South Carolina. In losses to N.C. State and Georgia, the Gamecocks have made a habit of shooting themselves in both left feet -- something that must change if they expect to snap the program's 12-game losing streak Saturday against visiting East Carolina (7 p.m.).

"There's got to be a continuity, there's got to be expectations, there's got to be a confidence of what's going to happen," said Holtz, whose team trying to avoid its first 0-3 start since 1992. "Right now, there is absolutely none there. And it may get worse before it gets better."

It can't get much worse for the offense, which has struck little fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators. The Gamecocks laid a goose egg in a 10-0 loss at N.C. State, and their first touchdown of the season in last week's 24-9 loss at Georgia came long after the game had been decided.

"I cannot think of a situation on offense that's worse than the one we have right now," Holtz said. "No confidence, no success."

Particularly out of the gates. The Gamecocks' first four possessions in the N.C. State and Georgia games were the recipe for failure -- three fumbles, three interceptions and two punts.

Sophomore quarterback Phil Petty was responsible for five of those turnovers, none bigger than the interception that ruined a promising drive in the second quarter at Georgia.

The Gamecocks used an effective blend of running and passing in marching to the Bulldogs' 28-yard line, but Petty's errant throw to an open Brian Scott was picked off by Cory Robinson.

"It was a slant," Petty said of the play that Holtz tabbed as the game's turning point. "It was my fault; I led (Scott) to far."

Holtz said the woes on the offensive line caused the brunt of Petty's problems. South Carolina went through most the game with just one lineman, sophomore Melvin Paige, who saw substantial action last season. Sophomore guard Philip Jones sat out all but one series with a hyperextended elbow, and junior center Scott Browne suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter.

"As a quarterback, when you aren't getting a lot of protection, it's difficult," said Holtz, who saw Petty sacked five times Saturday. "But you've got to also throw away from defenders."

In a search for continuity, Holtz said he plans to junk the option -- an attack the Gamecocks have used sparingly in their first two games -- because it has produced more headaches than yards.

"To run the option, you've got to buy into it," he said. "... I can't tell you why exactly, but we cannot run an option."

NOTES: Holtz said Larrell Johnson will take the starting spot at center that was vacated by Browne's injury, though he isn't sure who will back up the sophomore. Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 294-pounder, played defense last season ... Senior free safety Arturo Freeman, who missed the Gamecocks' first two games with a ruptured spleen, is expected to play Saturday, as is sophomore cornerback Andre Goodman and sophomore offensive lineman Jason Cox, a former Strom Thurmond standout ... Freshman defensive back Brian Elam, a former star at North Augusta, saw his first action of the season at Georgia. He had one assisted tackle ... The Gamecocks entered halftime at Georgia with 59 rushing yards, but finished the game with 46. They lost 23 yards on a four-play sequence in the third quarter.

Humble beginnings

South Carolina hasn't been much for first impressions in losses at N.C. State and Georgia. The Gamecocks' first four drives in each of those contests have yielded punts, interceptions and fumbles.

At N.C. State, Sept. 4:

First drive: Fumble by quarterback Phil Petty

Second drive: Interception by Petty

Third drive: Botched snap on field goal attempt

Fourth drive: Fumble by Petty

At Georgia, Sept. 11

First drive: Interception by Petty

Second drive: Punt

Third drive: Punt

Fourth drive: Interception by Petty

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com.