COLUMBIA, S.C. - In his fourth season at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier is still searching for a quarterback, an offense that works and a reason for Gamecock fans to quit wondering if the game has passed him by.
It was only a year ago when a high-flying Spurrier talked frequently of challenging for a Southeastern Conference crown as the Gamecocks opened 2007 winning six of seven games.
Since then, South Carolina is 1-6. Those defeats include two straight to former SEC-doormat Vanderbilt. Spurrier had come into last year's game 14-0 against the Commodores, a streak as dead as the "Cock-n-Fire" offense has looked recently.
"That's part of the game. If your team doesn't play well, you're not a very good coach," the 63-year-old Spurrier said Sunday. "I'm not a very good coach right now. That's just the way life is."
Up next is South Carolina's staunchest test yet in No. 2 Georgia on Saturday at home..
Spurrier had hoped to have his offense straightened out by now. His 2007 recruiting class was ranked in the top 10 by most analysts and was full of lean, speedy wideouts, and quick, massive defenders similar to Spurrier's hauls during 12 successful seasons at Florida.
Throughout last year's five-game closing swoon, Spurrier continually pointed to that group as reason to hope. "Our best teams are ahead of us," Spurrier frequently said.
Those teams don't appear to have arrived yet.
Spurrier's chosen quarterback, Tommy Beecher, was lost and out of synch in week one, throwing four interceptions in his debut as a starter against North Carolina State on Aug. 28. Backup Chris Smelley got the job over an injured Beecher at Vanderbilt, but he struggled to move South Carolina's offense. Smelley threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, causing Spurrier to hold off naming a starter for Georgia until later in the week.
The wildcard could be third-stringer Stephen Garcia, part of the 2007 group of newcomers. Garcia, though, fell desperately behind after missing the past two spring practices because of suspensions. "He's getting a lot of coaching," Spurrier says. "Whenever his chance comes, hopefully, he'll be ready."
That chance may be closer than Spurrier thought upon Garcia's return to the team this summer. Spurrier wanted Beecher or Smelley to take control, but "after the second game, it hasn't quite happened," he said.
Worse for Spurrier is the uncertain status of South Carolina's best offensive threat in receiver Kenny McKinley. The senior caught the Gamecocks first TD pass against Vanderbilt, then spent the rest of the game with his upper leg wrapped in ice.
Spurrier said McKinley is dealing with a strained hamstring and wouldn't know if he could play until later in the week.
In the offseason, Spurrier also made much out of shifting play-calling responsibilities to his son, Steve Jr., the Gamecocks receivers coach. The elder Spurrier said he's called a number of plays this season, although with the team's struggles, he's re-evaluating everything. "We're certainly not dead set on the way we've been doing things around here," Spurrier said.
So Spurrier deals with Gamecock fans shaking their heads about when they'll see the big offensive numbers he routinely hung on them as Florida's coach. "Why not us?" Spurrier told South Carolina supporters in November 2004 after accepting the job.
The question for some these days may be, "Why us?"
"When I had a bunch of guys running around scoring a bunch of points, I was a real good coach," Spurrier said. "Now, I don't have a bunch of guys running around scoring a whole lot of points, so I'm not a very good coach."
"I accept it. I have no problems with the complaints. I expect it," he said. "That's the way it is."