Originally created 09/26/00

Gamecocks prepare for Alabama



COLUMBIA -- One team is 4-0 and has greatness in its sights. The other is 1-3 and on the brink of utter collapse.

A month ago, who'd have believed that South Carolina would represent the former and Alabama the latter?

"I would have said, 'Thank God we won one,' " Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz said Monday.

Indeed, such a scenario would have seemed grossly inconceivable entering the season, when the Crimson Tide was considered a national title contender and the Gamecocks -- whose first objective was ending a 21-game losing streak -- were confined to the cellar of the Southeastern Conference.

But the Tide, South Carolina's opponent Saturday, appears to have died, and here the Gamecocks are -- undefeated, ranked No. 23 and the talk of the college football town.

If this is some prolonged, fantastic dream, Jermale Kelly doesn't want the alarm clock to sound anytime soon.

"It's meant to be," said Kelly, a senior who was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after his nine-reception, 123-yard performance in last week's win over Mississippi State. "We feel like it, anyway, as much as we work. It's just something that happened."

Much of the mysticism that surrounds the revival stems from the manner in which it was achieved. Saturday's 23-19 win over the then-No. 25 Bulldogs essentially was clinched when walk-on quarterback Erik Kimrey connected with Kelly on a desperation touchdown pass to put South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 SEC) up for good.

But it is uncertain whether the next chapter of the Gamecocks' storybook script will include starting quarterback Phil Petty. The junior signal-caller suffered a sprained ankle the play before Kimrey's fling down the left sideline, and Holtz said Monday that he isn't sure whether Petty will be ready for the 3 p.m. game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

But Holtz has a record of being less than forthcoming when reporting what goes on behind the scenes, so perhaps it wouldn't be a shock for the 63-year-old to use the uncertainty to his advantage -- in other words, keep the Tide guessing about Petty's availability -- and then see Petty behind center Saturday.

Alabama coach Mike DuBose could use any information Holtz might provide, particularly that which pertains to restoring a broken program.

The Tide (1-3, 1-1), which began the season ranked No. 3 nationally, has a wealth of talent but one uninspiring win over Vanderbilt to show for it. They opened with a jolting loss at UCLA and beat the Commodores before absorbing a staggering broadside hit in a 21-0 home loss to Southern Miss on Sept. 16.

It didn't get any better last week when Alabama traveled to Arkansas and lost 28-21, causing DuBose's job security -- not Saturday's date with the Gamecocks -- to become the hot topic across Tuscaloosa and beyond.

Though Holtz said he's worried about possible matchup problems the talented Tide might create, he said he's "more concerned about our football team and us making great improvement this week fundamentally."

"We've got to get better and we've got to eliminate some mistakes, and we've got to get to where we run the ball some and just play a little bit better on defense," he said.

-- Larry Williams