COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier likes what undefeated South Carolina has accomplished so far. He knows, though, the third-ranked Gamecocks have plenty of games left that will determine how special the season turns out.
South Carolina (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) jumped up three spots Sunday to its highest position since 1984 after a dominating 35-7 victory over No. 14 Georgia on Saturday night. The Gamecocks reached a number of milestones, winning their school-record 10th straight game and taking three straight from the Bulldogs for the first time with the sort of performance that fuels national title talk.
“We realized if we won the game last night, this could happen,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier handled those sky-high expectations much of his 12 seasons at Florida from 1990-2001, bringing his alma mater a national championship in 1996. Spurrier said this group of Gamecocks is his most complete and mature group since he took control of things in 2005. All that doesn’t guarantee perfection in the unpredictable world of college football.
“We certainly like where we are right now, but we’re smart enough to know it’s still a difficult, difficult road for us,” Spurrier said.
That starts this week with the Gamecocks heading to No. 9 LSU to face a Tiger team angry from its season’s first loss at No. 4 Florida earlier Saturday and carrying the advantage of a night game at Death Valley where the home team rarely falters.
The fired-up LSU atmosphere even stung Spurrier before, his 1997 top-ranked, defending national champions stumbling to the Tigers 28-21.
“They’ll be ready for us,” Spurrier said. “They’re ready for everybody.”
Part of Spurrier’s success at South Carolina is his steady approach from week to week. When he arrived, he thought too much time was spent tracking state rival Clemson and not focused on the Southeastern Conference and got both players and fans to lock on to chasing a league title.
He also knew the Gamecocks couldn’t let the state’s best players such as receiver A.J. Green head off to Georgia like he did before Spurrier arrived. So Spurrier landed the past four winners of the state’s “Mr. Football” award given to South Carolina’s top prep player. Those included last April’s first-round draft pick in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and current Gamecocks stars tailback Marcus Lattimore and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Lattimore and Clowney showed their worth against the Bulldogs. Lattimore gained 109 yards – he has 467 yards and four TDs in three career games vs. Georgia – while Clowney led a defensive effort that held the SEC’s highest scoring team coming in without a point the game’s first 58 minutes.
Clowney said the noise from a record 85,199 people at Williams-Brice Stadium was so overwhelming, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had to tap his center on the backside to get the snaps off – and it gave South Carolina defenders the chance to tee off. “I couldn’t hear, so I knew they couldn’t hear,” Clowney said with a laugh.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said the Gamecocks quickly got ahead by three touchdowns in the first quarter, and the Bulldogs couldn’t catch up. “Being down 21-0 in the first quarter, that’s hard” to come back from, Jones said. “Especially by a team in the SEC.”
Spurrier has a rule in place, like many coaches, that his staff and players get 24 hours to celebrate success or flush out failure. Then it’s back to work, no matter what happened in the previous game.
“That’s the way this team works. That’s the system coach Spurrier has in place and that’s the way the players will handle it,” South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
It might be hard to totally forget this one, especially with happy students and fans on campus telling the Gamecocks how great they’ve been. Spurrier understands and accepts that, too.
The last time Spurrier’s Gamecocks enjoyed this large a spotlight came in 2010 following a stunning 35-21 win over then top-ranked Alabama. South Caroilna then lost a week later, 31-28, at Kentucky, a defeat Spurrier blames more on a stalled second-half offense than players not being ready. “I blame the coaches for that one,” he said.
This time, the Gamecock feature better, older leaders who’ve kept the team even-keeled through the high times and the low. “You really don’t ever know anything until you go play the game,” Spurrier said. “But we’ve got some good leaders.”
Leaders, Spurrier thinks, who’ll keep locked on to the next opponent while understanding that success won’t guarantee anything beyond that. “We do have a chance for a big year,” Spurrier said. “If we continue on doing what we’re doing.”