Elliott debut: Interim coach leads South Carolina vs. Vandy
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Shawn Elliott gathered South Carolina’s assistant coaches for his first meeting as the Gamecocks interim head coach.
”You all with me?” Elliott asked.
After getting ”Yeses” all round, he thought, ”Well, what else are you going to say?”
What else is there to say as South Carolina (2-4, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) ends a tumultuous week with its home game against Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2).
It’s Elliott’s first game as head coach – and the first game for South Carolina since Steve Spurrier resigned on Monday night.
Athletic director Ray Tanner said after meeting with several assistants and team captains, Elliott became the best choice to lead the troubled program forward.
Spurrier told players in meetings earlier in the week that the program needed a ”new voice” going forward. Elliott’s voice is booming and passionate, perhaps the antidote to a struggling season.
Elliott said his only focus this week is ”beat Vanderbilt.”
The Gamecocks, who have a bye the following week, are looking for any reason to feel good about themselves. The season, which Spurrier thought would bring the program back toward its three 11-win years from 2011-13, instead has spiraled downward with a home loss to Kentucky and blowout defeats by Georgia and No. 6 LSU.
Now, it’s up to Elliott, the former offensive line coach, to turn things around.
”It’s important to get this behind us,” he said. ”It’s not business as usual. This doesn’t happen every day.”
It hasn’t been business as usual for a couple of weeks. The team’s home game with LSU last week was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana because of the devastating floods earlier this month.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason understands the opposing energy his team will face this weekend.
”You have to fight through those emotional highs and just make sure your guys level out,” he said. ”That’s why we’re trying to do some things in practice to help us start fast.”
Things to watch when South Carolina plays Vanderbilt:
ORTH-QUAKE: South Carolina will go with former walk-on Perry Orth at quarterback this week. Orth played against LSU and threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns. One-time starter Connor Mitch was working with the team after missing the last four games with a separated shoulder and could see action.
START FASTER: The biggest issue Vanderbilt has had this season is getting started with the opening kickoff. The Commodores have been outscored 17-9 in the first quarter and 25-23 in the second. ”That’s something that has to change, especially when you’re playing on the road against an SEC team,” center Spencer Pulley said. ”There’s going to be a big crowd with a lot of emotion.”
WILDS RETURN: South Carolina running back Brandon Wilds could return this week after missing the past three games with bruised ribs. The fifth-year senior was expected to play last week, but instead pulled himself out of the contest because he still felt pain.
CLEAN IT UP MCCRARY: Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary helped rally the Commodores to a win before their open date. Mason called it a step forward for McCrary and the team. But he wants the quarterback to get to the point of not making the same mistakes. McCrary has more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five). ”We’ve just got to alleviate the small mistakes and mental errors that can cost you ball games,” Mason said.
WHERE’S SPURRIER?: The former coach won’t be at the stadium – he’s scheduled to join ESPN in Michigan on Saturday – but will be everywhere around. His 80-foot poster outside the stadium (the Gamecocks are 9-10 since it was put up two seasons ago) remains as do the things in his office, which Spurrier says he’ll take time cleaning out.
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.