Spurrier looks to youth in 5th year with Gamecocks
Spurrier has tried for nearly five seasons to build a reliable offensive attack at South Carolina that can hold up against the Southeastern Conference's best.
Now, with steady sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia and a trio of talented freshman - tailbacks Kenny Miles and Jarvis Giles, and receiver Alshon Jeffery - Spurrier may be closer to that goal than ever before.
Watching youngsters take charge of his complex offense is not the easiest pill for Spurrier to swallow, and the No. 22 Gamecocks (5-1, 2-1 SEC) face their toughest test of the season when they travel to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday night.
"We're relying on whoever we think are the best players, obviously, to give us a chance to go win the game," Spurrier said Tuesday.
Garcia, known more for suspensions and off-field problems his first two seasons, has cut down his mistakes and developed as a leader. Giles became South Carolina's first freshman to top 100 yards on the ground since 2006 with 113 against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 19. Then Miles joined him three games later with 100 yards rushing in a win over Kentucky.
Jeffery, who had pledged to play for Pete Carroll at USC before choosing to stay close to home last February, had three touchdown catches against the Wildcats - all of which regained leads for the Gamecocks.
Jeffery was named the SEC's freshman of the week and Spurrier was so tickled, he awarded a game ball to recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer "for his continual recruiting of Alshon Jeffery," the head coach said. "He didn't give up on him. He hung in there with him."
You could say the same thing about Spurrier and Garcia, the once long-haired problem child who missed spring ball his first two seasons because of three run-ins with the law. Garcia was given a directive from the school and the coaches: Stay clean or else your gone.
Garcia apparently paid attention, with a little help.
Spurrier brought in one of his former Florida quarterbacks and assistants in G.A. Mangus to tutor all passers, including Garcia. Mangus has become Garcia's sounding board and liaison to Spurrier since arriving.
Garcia is third among SEC passers and went 124 attempts between interceptions during one stretch. Spurrier took notice last Saturday when Garcia leaped a Kentucky cornerback for a 5-yard gain on third-and-4 to keep possession as South Carolina ran out the clock.
"That's why you don't give up quickly on some of those freshmen that have some problems," Spurrier said.
Senior receiver Moe Brown said he couldn't stop shouting when he watched his quarterback go airborne.
"That's what I'm talking about Garcia. I see you," Brown yelled.
Brown could see a different Garcia almost from the start of offseason workouts.
"He's brought a different attitude," said Brown, a team captain.
Miles and Giles have helped solidify a running game that ranked 101st and 112th nationally in the Football Bowl Subdivision the past two seasons. South Carolina has averaged more than 157 yards rushing this season, more than 60 yards better than in 2008.
Jeffery, a quiet, 6-foot-3 leaper, got his first TD catch against South Carolina State on Oct. 3, then a week later became the playmaking wideout the Gamecocks haven't had since record-setter Sidney Rice left for the NFL three years ago.
"To be compared to someone like that is an honor," Jeffery said.
Jeffery had 7 catches for 138 yards against Kentucky, the most yardage for a South Carolina receiver in nearly two years.
If Spurrier had his wish, his young offensive players would be on the sideline during games and gaining pounds, wisdom and poise at practice. Instead, he and his staff will teach on the fly and hope the lessons stick.
"Overall, we've got a good team, but we're not a dominant-type team," Spurrier said. "Until you have a bunch of fourth- and fifth-year players, you're really not. For some reason, we've not built that up."
Garcia isn't concerned about the future, only with what's happening now. And he sees a talented offense that has yet to reach its potential.
"We're just getting better every single week and working hard in practice," he said. "It will pay off for us."