No. 12 South Carolina hopes to learn from errors
South Carolina learned once again that it's got a long way to go if it hopes to succeed in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gamecocks got solid and timely showings from their quarterbacks, their rushing game, and their defense in a 38-19 victory over lower division Furman on Saturday night.
Though the Gamecocks improved to 3-0 for the first time in three seasons and jumped a spot to 12th in the rankings, they know the performance was filled with stumbles they'll have to eliminate as they embark on a run of seven straight SEC contests.
''They probably outplayed us, outhit us, probably out-toughed us a little bit,'' Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said of Furman.
Ellis Johnson, the assistant head coach for defense, saw the breakdowns during practice and figured they'd show up during the game. ''A little lapse of concentration and so forth,'' he said.
All of which the Gamecocks have pledged to clean up before Saturday's critical SEC test at No. 17 Auburn.
''You expect to come in and beat these guys bad,'' said freshman Marcus Lattimore, who had 97 yards and a touchdown against Furman. ''But we lost focus. We should be more focused.''
Focus has been an issue for several of Spurrier's six seasons in South Carolina.
The Gamecocks have typically shown early promise in each of the past four years, opening a combined 21-7. But they've never been able to finish as strongly, going 7-16 down the stretch in that same span.
Only once have the Gamecocks finished above .500 in SEC play with Spurrier and that was in 2005, the head ball coach's debut season with the Gamecocks. Since then, it's a been a frustrating pattern of late disappointments that left Spurrier talking at times about hanging it up.
There were several positives to take from South Carolina's performance. Lattimore was 3 yards shy of his second 100-yard game and continued to rip through tacklers, although not as decisively as he had against Georgia a week earlier.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia and backup Connor Shaw proved they could move the team, each running for significant yardage when their receivers weren't open.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina's sophomore receiver, continued to catch everything thrown his way, although he's still without a touchdown reception this season.
But against Furman of the FCS Southern Conference, South Carolina gave back part of a 28-6 lead in the second half and gave up big plays that would've been game-changers in many SEC stadiums.
Garcia tried to flip a little pass toward the sidelines with South Carolina backed up on its own 12 when Furman's Shawn Boone tipped and caught the ball and returned it for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 28-13.
The Paladins were back at it a short time later, quarterback Cody Worley pitching out to Tersoo Uhaa who cranked a long throw to open receiver Adam Mims that resulted in a 72-yard touchdown.
''Pretty sad some of the things that happened,'' Spurrier said.
South Carolina was poised to give up more as Furman drove to the Gamecocks' 30 on its following possession. But Worley's overthrown pass settled in Stephon Gilmore's hands and he returned the interception 80 yards for the score that sealed the victory.
''We won, so that is really the main concern,'' Garcia said.
Success will be more difficult to achieve down the road. After facing Auburn, the Gamecocks take on top-ranked Alabama at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina hasn't beaten Auburn in four meetings since its last win in 1933. The Gamecocks are 2-12 all-time against the Crimson Tide.
South Carolina players understand they've achieved nothing so far and have their eyes fixed on the bigger prizes that could be ahead.
''Auburn is a good team,'' Gilmore said. ''We just have to come in Monday, practice hard, watch the film and we should be OK.''