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.”