South Carolina-Vanderbilt Preview
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has successfully handled
high expectations for most of his college career. He knows his
ninth-ranked Gamecocks will have to quickly learn the same
Excitement among South Carolina fans is at an all-time high
after last season’s 11-2 season, the most victories the program’s
ever produced. To achieve their goals in the Southeastern
Conference, the Gamecocks have to stay focused.
That trek starts Thursday night when South Carolina opens the
season at Vanderbilt.
Spurrier hasn’t spoken much with his players about following up
on success, although the Gamecocks would have to live in a plastic
bubble not to feel the fan frenzy throughout the state.
The Gamecocks were picked in the preseason top 10 for the first
time, the school announced a record membership for its athletic
booster group and talk of SEC titles and more fills local
For Spurrier, all the hoopla is nothing new.
He faced similarly grand expectations each of his 12 seasons at
Florida, where he won six SEC titles and the 1996 national
championship. He says the Gamecocks haven’t backed away from
achieving bigger things.
”Every team each year sort of sets their goals and we’ve set
our goals, very similar to last year,” Spurrier said. ”We’re
going to see if we can achieve our goals and hopefully do a little
better than last year.”
And that means starting quickly against the Commodores, who have
lost their past three to South Carolina but are treating this one
as more than a simple starting point.
”This is the only thing that exists,” Vanderbilt coach James
Franklin said. ”This is our Super Bowl. No other game
Spurrier wants that focus out of his players, too, and tries to
keep South Carolina from peeking down its schedule. That in part
has led to the team’s surge the past couple of seasons when the
Gamecocks’ head ball coach appeared to be banging his head against
a ceiling that would never break to some of the program’s biggest
The Gamecocks won their first SEC Eastern Division title in
2010, a run that included a victory over top-ranked Alabama – their
first-ever triumph over a No. 1-ranked opponent. The success
continued into 2011, despite a mid-season knee injury that took
star runner Marcus Lattimore from the club for the final six
Lattimore’s been full-go since the summer and has thrown himself
into contact at practices and scrimmages the past month. ”Marcus
is ready to carry it 25 or 30 times,” Spurrier said.
The only questions on South Carolina’s defense – ranked third in
the country last fall behind LSU and Alabama – concern who’s
calling the plays, not who’s making them. Coordinator Lorenzo Ward
took over for Ellis Johnson, now head coach at Southern Miss. Ward
has taken a more aggressive approach with the defensive game plan
to force more turnovers and on-field havoc.
”We’re going to be blitzing more than we did last year because
we got a different coach and he pretty much likes to go get them,”
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said of Ward’s
Clowney said the players haven’t worried about what others think
they can achieve this season because the Gamecocks are after those
same high goals.
”We’re going to be ready,” said Clowney, who had eight sacks
and forced five fumbles as a freshman.
Spurrier expects a big atmosphere at Vanderbilt with so much on
the line. ”Somebody said the Goodyear Blimp is even going to be
there first time ever,” he said.
The coach didn’t have much trouble with Vanderbilt until 2007
when the Commodores stunned the sixth-ranked Gamecocks 17-6 to end
the coach’s 14-0 mark against the SEC East rivals.
Vanderbilt followed that up a season later with a win in
Nashville, its last against South Carolina.
The players’ attitudes and dedication to success have changed
since then, Spurrier said.
”It’s been a fun, more fun group to coach the last year or so,
just because they all seem to want to do the same thing,” the
coach said. ”They all seem to be heading in the same
South Carolina senior tight end Justice Cunningham likes the
attention Vanderbilt’s put on this game because it shows how far
the program’s come.
”I really like that a lot,” he said. ”We’ve earned some
respect over the years.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed
to this report.