Spurrier: Too much partying after last Clemson win
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)Three years ago, Steve Spurrier crowed to anyone who would listen that his team's victory at Clemson could lead to great things in the Southeastern Conference.
Spurrier won't make that mistake again after his second win against South Carolina's in-state rival, 34-17 on Saturday.
"I think we celebrate too much when we beat them," Spurrier said. "I think we overdid it three years ago. I was guilty of it also."
It's easy to lose your head in the Palmetto State's biggest sports rivalry. There are no major professional sports teams based in the state of nearly 4.5 million people, making this rivalry what fans on both sides talk about all year long.
Maybe that's what fueled Spurrier that afternoon at Death Valley in 2006, in his second season at South Carolina and eager to step on the gas toward the top of the SEC.
"Hopefully, whatever bad things happened to South Carolina football may be erased today," Spurrier said back then, after the 31-28 victory.
Turns out they weren't. South Carolina is 20-17 since, including two losses to the Tigers.
So this time, Spurrier and the Gamecocks (7-5) will be happy with the win over the 15th-ranked Tigers and the improved bowl prospects. But they'll dial it down to prepare for a bowl with eyes on a good showing and hope that carries into 2010.
"I know we got a happy bunch of Gamecocks," Spurrier said. "We're going to try and win us a bowl game and try and make the offseason nice also."
The offseason will be nice if South Carolina can repeat the rushing game that powered past the Tigers. The Gamecocks finished with 223 yards rushing, their best outing since September, and freshman Kenny Miles ran for 114, his fourth game of more than 100 yards.
With two weeks to prepare, South Carolina's defense gave the Tigers and dynamic star C.J. Spiller no room to operate. Spiller opened the game with his NCAA record seventh kickoff return touchdown, but rushed for just 18 yards as he dealt with a stomach bug.
"We just wanted to make a statement," South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia said. "Send the seniors out right."
And perhaps give younger players a taste of what could be ahead.
Garcia overcame an early interception to throw three touchdown passes. Stephon Gilmore, a freshman defensive back, ran a wildcat offense that helped South Carolina tie the score at 7.
DeVonte Holloman, Gilmore's high school teammate last fall, had his first interception that led to the Gamecocks' go-ahead TD. Freshman receivers Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley combined for six catches and 115 yards, and Gurley added a 14-yard touchdown catch.
There's a different spirit than last year, Spurrier said Sunday, when several upperclassmen were thinking of the NFL and many assistants were looking elsewhere.
Spurrier added five new coaches before this season and doesn't plan any changes this winter.
"We're a much more united team," Spurrier said. "Guys like each other."
The victory brings a bit of validation to Spurrier's program. The Gamecocks had collapsed late the past two seasons with five straight defeats to close 2007, three in a row to end 2008.
Having lost their final three SEC games heading into this one, a similar swoon appeared in full effect. Instead, South Carolina gave itself and its fans something to smile about.
"The way things have been going this last part of the season, it was a great win for us and for Carolina fans," senior linebacker Eric Norwood said.
Just as long as they keep this one in perspective.
Spurrier and the Gamecocks will wait for their holiday destination, most likely one of the SEC's middle-tier tie-ins like the Music City or Chick-fil-A bowls. Be assured that the 64-year-old Spurrier won't ever again let the joy of beating Clemson distract him.
"We'll try and enjoy the victory tonight and celebrate that," Spurrier said. "But after today, we'll go on to the next game."