SCarolina's Spurrier patches together a winner
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)
Steve Spurrier may have done one of his finest coaching jobs this season.
He led a South Carolina team turned upside down by injuries and suspensions to six Southeastern Conference wins for the first time in school history.
Spurrier expected the No, 14 Gamecocks' offense to be a strength of the team. Returning senior quarterback Stephen Garcia and sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore accounted for more than 81 percent of the offense of the 2010 team that made the Southeastern Conference title game.
But Garcia was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons after five games and Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game. The team also lost veteran left tackle Kyle Nunn for the season in September with a back injury.
But Spurrier scaled back his playbook, patched together what he had and has put the No. 14 Gamecocks in position to win a 10th game for only the second time in more than a century of football if they can beat No. 18 Clemson on Saturday.
Spurrier shrugs off any credit, saying this season is more a product of a little good luck - South Carolina has won four of five games decided by less than a touchdown - and a stifling defense.
''We realize we're fortunate enough to be in the situation we're in right now. We've won almost all of our close games this year; all but one,'' Spurrier said. ''We've had very good fortune this year. We're not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but we are 9-2.''
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney also admires the job Spurrier has done.
Swinney said he has a ton of respect for the 67-year-old Spurrier and he hopes he can accomplish all the things Spurrier has in 22 seasons as a college coach.
''They've done a great job of playing to their strengths. They've done a great job overcoming adversity,'' Swinney said. ''It's about getting better and that's what they've done.''
The injuries the Gamecocks have dealt with haven't been limited to the offense. Eight defense players came out of last Saturday's win against The Citadel complaining of various ailments, although five of them were able to practice Tuesday. No position has been hit harder than running back. Along with Lattimore, junior Eric Baker and freshman Shon Carson have also had knee injuries.
''I can't remember this many sort of key injuries to running backs. Three knees in the running back category. I never remember that many really even on the entire team, Spurrier said.
Even the healthy players have struggled. Alshon Jeffery led the SEC with 108 receiving yards a game and was second with 6.3 catches. This season, without a quarterback that can throw a consistent deep ball, Jeffery's yards and catches have been cut nearly in half.
But Jeffery hasn't complained. After catching five passes in last Saturday's win - a number that would have been his third-worst day last season, but was his second-best day this year - Jeffery said he simply does what the coaches tell him he needs to do for the team.
''All that matters to me is that we get the win. That's all I'm worried about,'' Jeffery said.
The success this season isn't all strategy and game planning. Offensive lineman Terrence Campbell said Spurrier and his coaches have worked hard to create a team where players are held accountable, but also feel their teammates and coaches want to see them succeed, whether they are an all-SEC star or fourth on the depth chart.
''We were built for whatever can happen. It didn't matter to us. We were a close group from the summertime. We all worked hard. We prepared ourselves for injuries - that's part of the game,'' Campbell said.
Spurrier said credit for this year's team should also go to his seniors, who provided solid leadership and have become the first South Carolina teams to ever win nine games in back-to-back seasons.
The coach admits watching game film this season has been painful, but figures it all part of the learning process. Starting quarterback Connor Shaw is just a sophomore, and Spurrier said he is a eager to learn son of a coach. Just two offensive starters, both on the line, are seniors. Even if Jeffery heads to the NFL after this year the team should have plenty of room to improve in 2012.
''I think offensively we've been really pretty much the same most of the time I think,'' Spurrier said. ''A lot of two-touchdowns drives in the course of the game and hopefully our defense would score one or two if we had to.''