Gamecocks focusing on Kentucky, not big picture

Winning big games is new at South Carolina.

For coach Steve Spurrier? Not so much.

The Head Ball Coach is well aware of the pitfalls that can

follow after an emotional victory over a major rival. He’s been on

both sides of the letdown before.

”History tells us teams that have a big win don’t do well the

next time,” he said. ”I can go back to our days at Florida when

we lost to a team, they lost the next week. We’re just trying to

learn from history.”

Even as the 10th-ranked Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) try to make


They stunned defending national champion Alabama last week,

snapping the Crimson Tide’s aura of invincibility while stamping

themselves as legitimate contenders to win the SEC East.

The Gamecocks know they’re sniffing rarified air. Spurrier

allows this could be the season someone other than Florida, Georgia

or Tennessee represents the East in the SEC title game.

He believes it could be the Gamecocks. He also knows how

fleeting success can become if South Carolina looks past Saturday’s

matchup with reeling Kentucky (3-3, 0-3).

”We’re not complaining, but we also realize the whole season is

still out there,” he said.

Yet this is a different South Carolina team. Led by bruising

freshman Marcus Lattimore and burly wide receiver Alshon Jeffery,

Spurrier has traded the ”Fun and Gun” style he used at Florida to

something more akin to ”Smash and Run.”

If Lattimore isn’t churning out yards between the tackles,

Jeffery is using his 6-foot-4 frame to dominate smaller

cornerbacks. His breakout game came a year ago, when he scored

three touchdowns in a 28-26 win over the Wildcats.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips called Jeffery ”a great

rebounder.” He could find little fault with the way his team

defended Jeffery a year ago. When your corners are giving away 4-5

inches to a receiver, sometimes great technique isn’t enough.

”They just throw it up to him and let him go down the field 10

yards and post up and just throw the ball up to him,” Phillips


Though Jeffery lacks the breakaway speed at receiver that

Spurrier enjoyed at Florida, he doesn’t necessarily need it. His

45-yard reception in the fourth quarter against Alabama was typical

Jeffery. He boxed out an Alabama defender, then hauled in the lob

from quarterback Stephen Garcia and raced inside the Alabama 5,

setting up Lattimore’s clinching touchdown.

”We go into it like he’s a special player, and there’s one of

those somewhere on the other team every week,” said Kentucky

linebacker Ronnie Sneed. ”This week, he’s that guy. We plan on

playing him like normal.”

Hopefully a little better than that. The Wildcats have dropped

three straight, mainly because its defense has been unable to keep

opposing teams out of the end zone. Opponents have scored on all 22

possessions inside Kentucky’s red zone.

”We’ve just got to bow up,” Phillips said.

Lattimore and Jeffery don’t make it easy.

Jeffery considers himself a more complete receiver than he was a

year ago. The hesitation he had at the line of scrimmage while

trying to figure out where to go is gone.

”Last year, I was just doing it with the rhythm, just

playing,” he said. ”This year, I’m like, learning more stuff,

moving more faster and doing things better than last year.”

His improvement and Lattimore’s precocious play have made the

Gamecocks one of the most efficient teams in the SEC. Lattimore,

the fourth-leading rusher in the conference, has been so effective

he forces opponents to stack the line of scrimmage to stop the run.

That often leaves Jeffery in single coverage.

It’s a matchup most cornerbacks lose.

”(Jeffery) is killing everybody right now,” said Kentucky

defensive coordinator Steve Brown. ”I watched Alabama, he had two

touchdowns. He killed them.”

Another loss and Kentucky’s hopes of taking the next step toward

the upper tier in the SEC will be gone. To turn things around the

Wildcats will have to find a way to do something they’ve never

done: beat Spurrier.

Kentucky is 0-17 whenever Spurrier is on the other sideline.

It’s not something Phillips likes to talk about.

”I’ve tried not to mention things like that because we got to

play,” he said. ”This is a different team.”

One hoping to avoid the same outcome against the Gamecocks, who

have won 10 straight in the series. Yet South Carolina hasn’t

exactly dominated on the road, dropping six straight road

conference games, their last win coming in an ugly 24-17 win at

Kentucky two years ago.

All the giddy joy of last Saturday’s breakthrough against the

Crimson Tide can disappear with one uninspired performance.

”We do have a chance to win the East,” Spurrier said. ”We

have a chance. We may not. We may fall on our face. I don’t know

what will happen.”