COLUMBIA, S.C. -- If South Carolina coach Lou Holtz sounds like he's lost his mind, just chalk it up to what he's seen so far from his Gamecocks.
"We are a better football team this year than last year," Holtz said Monday. "But we're not as good a team as last year. That sounds like (it's) crazy."
Not if you look at both the improvements and the problems for a team that hoped to challenge for a Southeastern Conference title:
- The Gamecocks held Virginia and Georgia each to less than 340 yards of offense - the Bulldogs did not score an offensive touchdown - but they committed 11 turnovers to lose both games.
- South Carolina's offense moved the ball well on several drives against Georgia, but Andrew Pinnock fumbled inside the Bulldogs 5-yard line twice including with 12 seconds to go.
- In a season where Holtz's four recruiting classes were to show strongly, senior leaders have accounted for 11 of the team's 12 turnovers.
"We execute better, we block better, we run better," Holtz said. "If you take out about eight or nine plays, you say, 'Hey, that's a pretty good football team."'
That doesn't matter, though, when you can't hold on to the ball.
Senior quarterback Corey Jenkins had four of South Carolina's seven turnovers against Virginia. Besides Pinnock's two mistakes this past week, senior receiver Chavez Donnings lost a punt and 26-year-old Jenkins had the ball swiped from him in the end zone for defensive end David Pollack's amazing interception TD.
"I've never had a team lose two games like we did that have played as well fundamentally," said Holtz, a hopeful tone breaking in his typical dour Monday meeting. "We sort of self destruct at times."
Instead of a big-time SEC start, South Carolina (1-2) searches for its confidence as Temple (1-2) comes to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.
"We've got to leave all that behind us," safety Jonathan Martin said.
Easier said than done.
Martin, like his teammates, tried to escape his first loss to Georgia in three seasons on Sunday's day off. But when he read a story about the game in the student newspaper Monday, "it pulled me down right away."
Holtz's isn't sure how to correct the problems.
Pinnock's errors have cost the Gamecocks one of their strengths the past two years - their goal line offense. Pinnock has 22 career touchdowns, several from South Carolina's power T formation where three backs line up across behind the quarterback.
"The fullback's gotta be a threat, or you don't have much of a goal line offense," Holtz said.
Perhaps part of the problem is the extra load placed on Pinnock this year, said the coach.
The past two seasons, the backfield featured Pinnock, speedy Ryan Brewer and star Derek Watson. All three shared the burden, Holtz said, and drove the team to two straight Outback Bowl wins.
But Watson's dismissal and Brewer's offseason ankle surgery left Pinnock as the only healthy returning back.
Holtz will scrimmage several young backs this week, including Daccus Turman, Thez Robinson and Kenny Irons to see who might be able to provide some speed and elusiveness.
Holtz also says he'll try freshman receivers like Troy Williamson and Andre Hemphill to see if they can add a big-play factor that's been missing so far for South Carolina.
One of the best signs for the Gamecocks last week may have been Brewer's circus catch for a fourth-quarter touchdown that cut Georgia's lead to 10-7.
"You got to keep playing the rest of the season," Martin said. "You never know what's going to happen."
More attitudes like that and Holtz's talk of improvement won't sound so crazy after all.
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