GAINESVILLE, Fla. — On his Sunday media teleconference, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was asked about this weekend’s game between Florida and Georgia, annually one of the Southeastern Conference’s most anticipated rivalries.
“I’m pulling for Florida, but I think it’ll be a close game,” he said. “I’ve got my own problems around here trying to make a first down.”
Spurrier is so wrapped up in trying to fix his offense that he apparently wasn’t aware until informed by a reporter that in order for USC to win the SEC’s Eastern Division, it needs to win out in SEC play by beating Tennessee and Arkansas at home, and also have Florida lose out.
“Who they got after Georgia?” Spurrier asked, referring to Florida.
Missouri, he was told. The Gators host the Tigers.
“Just Missouri?” Spurrier asked.
Yes, just Missouri. Spurrier paused.
“I don’t see all that happening,” he said. “We don’t need to worry about that right now. We’re just trying to hold onto the ball and try to play a good, solid game against Tennessee.”
The Gamecocks’ chances of winning the SEC East for the second time in three years essentially dissolved when they lost 44-11 on Saturday at Florida. It was the second straight defeat for USC (6-2, 4-2 SEC), though the previous week’s 23-21 loss at LSU didn’t sting nearly as much.
USC is now out of the top 10 for the first time all season, down to No. 17 in the Associated Press poll. But rankings mean nothing for this team now. It can still match last year’s 11-2 record by winning out, provided it doesn’t fumble four times and lose three of them, as it did at Florida.
And USC technically can still win the SEC East. In addition to USC winning out and Florida losing out, the Gamecocks also need Georgia to lose to Mississippi at home or Auburn on the road, but not both. That would give USC the East based on having a better divisional record than Florida and winning the head-to-head matchup with Georgia.
But Ole Miss or Auburn beating Georgia might be a longer shot than Missouri beating Florida in Gainesville. So Spurrier will focus on what he can control, as the Gamecocks on Saturday afternoon against Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) will try to improve to 17-2 at home since the beginning of 2010, and 9-2 against SEC opponents.
“Good teams don’t fumble the way we did yesterday,” Spurrier said Sunday. “So we’re just not a real good team right now. We played the way bad teams play yesterday. Hopefully, we can regroup somehow and start playing like good teams. We still have plenty of goals out there to achieve this year.
“There are a lot of teams out there that would like to be 6-2. We don’t need to feel sorry for ourselves. It was just embarrassing to lay the ball on the ground down at The Swamp yesterday. As coaches, we better teach the guys how to hang onto it. I know that some of the Florida players said that those return guys hold it loosely in one hand.”
USC’s three lost fumbles, all in the first half and two on special teams returns, led to touchdown drives of 1, 2 and 29 yards for Florida and resulted in a 21-6 halftime deficit that quarterback Dylan Thompson couldn’t overcome when he replaced Connor Shaw for the second half. USC finished with 191 yards, surpassing its previous season low of 211 against LSU. USC ran for 36 yards at Florida and 34 at LSU.
“In all likelihood, Connor will probably go back to starting (against Tennessee), unless something happens during the week,” Spurrier said. “We’re still trying to get Connor to throw a little bit more when it’s there. But again, Connor, with his ability to run, certainly helps our running. And every Gamecock alive knows we need to run the ball. I know we need to, too. But the games we ran well, we also hit a pretty good percentage of passes to keep drives going.”