South Carolina enters year six of the Spurrier Era hoping this is the year they breakthrough and win the East. Optimism is high in Columbia, but that is nothing new in August.
To find out why Gamecock fans are in such good spirits, I contacted South Carolina Blog Leftover Hot Dog for their insight.
Q: Stephen Garcia was the SEC's second leading passer last year. Why has Spurrier been so hard on him this offseason?
A: As we all know, Spurrier demands excellence from his quarterbacks. Garcia is no different. Spurrier expects better performances from his fourth year junior gunslinger under center.
I feel Spurrier knows that Garcia has the potential but it is about Garcia committing himself to improving. What I mean by that is natural ability cannot get it done in the SEC. Garcia needed a good summer reviewing the playbook, working hard, making throws, etc. This is what Spurrier wanted to hear about, Garcia putting in extra effort to get better as a quarterback.
In Spurrier’s offense, it is more important to have a smart quarterback than just a gunslinger. He likes timing routes and the quarterback having the ability to understand how a play will develop based off the defense scheme before the word “hike.”
Garcia is a good quarterback but good will not cut it at USC or in the SEC. Thus Spurrier trying to motivate his quarterback to improve as the team’s success depends on it.
Q: How much of Spurrier's criticism do you think is motivational based?
A: Every word. Spurrier is a little old school in how he handles his team as it is more of a “tough love approach” rather than being a big “soft-ty.” This, at South Carolina, is needed.
But this is where G.A. Magnus comes in as the quarterbacks coach.
He has been the buffer between the Head Ball Coach and the player. Coach Magnus has been able to translate and work with Garcia on the areas he has to grow. Again, Spurrier knows Garcia has the tools to be a really good quarterback, thus his motivation since the bowl loss.
Q: Could highly touted freshman Marcus Lattimore win the starting job at running back?
A: He certainly could be the starter for some games in 2010, but you have to remember the “running back stable” for USC is the deepest it has ever been. More about Marcus getting touches, growing and learning. While doing really good things on the field.
The Gamecocks have Kenny Miles, Jarvis Giles, Bryce Sherman, Brian Maddox, and Marcus Lattimore. Talk about weapons.
Each of the above referenced players could be a starter, but each has certain tools that have to be leveraged in 2010.
Out of the list, Miles and Lattimore should receive the bulk of carries in 2010. Don’t overlook Jarvis Giles as he certainly could factor in. Lots of touches to spread out amongst the guys this season.
Q: The offensive line has really held the Gamecocks offense back. Tell my why this year they could be a strength.
A: I hesitate to say the O-line will be a strength in 2010, but I will say it will improved. I am a big fan of the new O-line coach, Shawn Elliott. He came over from Appalachian State so he knows how to get the most out of his players. He is a fantastic teacher, motivator, and coach. He has already worked hard to get his O-line players in gear to compete in 2010.
He is trying to find the right mix this year as he, along with the fans, know that a lot rides on the line's performance this season. They must reduce sacks allowed, keep the pressure away from the quarterback, and create running lanes. USC has some seniors that could factor in but also some new faces could rotate in and help the unit.
I look forward to the first game to see how this unit is progressing as I expect improvement over the last three seasons. It surely cannot get worse…right?
Q: I read about South Carolina using a no-huddle offense some in the spring. How much do you expect to see this come fall?
A: You will see it in play this season. I shy away from saying "a lot" or, "it is the new approach." I think it is safer to say this is a new wrinkle in the offense’s approach. It will allow some mixing up and keep the opposing defense on their toes.
The new offensive line coach is also the run game coordinator and he brought this new thinking with him. I look forward to it as the USC offense has to put up some points in 2010 to go along with a stellar defense. This new “no-huddle” thinking will certainly help.
Q: Eric Norwood will be very hard to replace, but someone must step up. Who is going to bring the pressure from the outside this season?
A: Opposing quarterbacks need to concern themselves with keeping tabs on DE Cliff Matthews and DE Devin Taylor. Both have the ability to get after it. Taylor has to step up so that opposing O-lines don’t double team Matthews. I expect Matthews to be All-SEC and Devin to have a breakout year after a very good freshman year.
Q: What could be weak link on this defense?
A: I really don’t see a weakness in this defense. Some may say the linebackers with the loss of Eric Norwood to the NFL, but Shaq Wilson and Rodney Paulk will fill in nicely. What must improve for the defense is interceptions. The defense has to use some stickum and hold on to the ball when it hits their hands. If the defense can improve on this from last year—look out SEC.
Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?
A: Marcus Lattimore will factor in as a running back. Receiver Ace Sanders has had a good first week of practice with good hands and speed. He should get some balls thrown his way.
Quarterback Connor Shaw will not steal the limelight from Garcia, but he could get some reps in certain games (i.e. Furman).
We may see an O-line signee in there, like AJ Cann or another as the O-line needs the bodies.
Defensively, the Gamecocks brought in a pair of junior college transfers who could pay immediate dividends, linebacker Toquavius Gilchrist and D-lineman Byron Jerideau. Also, cornerback Vic Hampton may get some reps.
Q: Where do you think beating Clemson ranks in terms team goals? Are the fans goals different from this?
A: Beating Clemson always ranks as a top goal. How high that is on the list depends on who you ask. Some will take a SEC East division crown over beating Clemson, others would shun me for saying that. But some on the Clemson side would say the same—meaning an ACC crown over a USC win.
Make no mistake about it, if the potential to win the SEC East is off the table then beating Clemson is high priority.
Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one
A: A successful season is the Gamecocks enter the Florida game with the SEC East on the line. USC sitting at 5-2 in the conference and UF at 6-1. USC wins and finishes at 6-2 and get the SEC East conference crown. I really thing the potential for USC to win the SEC East is strong. If the SEC East crown is off the table then a minimum of eight wins is a must.
A disappointing season is 6-6 with a loss to Clemson to boot.
Q: What is your prediction for this season?
A: The Gamecocks will WIN vs. Southern Mississippi, Furman, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and Troy. Clear Loss vs. Alabama (yet close). Likely win at home vs Georgia and at Clemson. Toss-ups but must win at least one—home vs Arkansas; at Auburn. Toss up—at Florida.
So my worst case scenario for USC in 2010 is 7-5 with losses to Bama, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, and Auburn.
Best case scenario is 10-2 with losses to Alabama and Arkansas. SEC CHAMPS.
Most likely either 8-4 or 9-3. Losses coming from this batch with one surprise win in their —Bama, Florida, Arkansas and Auburn. I think that win could be Auburn.
Bottom line, this is not your usual Gamecocks as they will make some noise in a vulnerable SEC East in 2010. How much depends on the Georgia and Auburn games to set the tone for what could be a magical year.
My Take on South Carolina
The Gamecocks are an intriguing team this year in the East considering what they have returning and the turnover at Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia.
The defense should be very good again despite the loss of Norwood. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has raised the play to a high level among the best in the SEC.
Offensively, I don’t know what to make of Spurrier’s public criticism of Garcia. Who knows whether he will be pulled in the first game or go onto to have a great season. Its hard to remember the OBC not being upset at a quarterback; Danny Wuerffel was probably the last one to go unscathed.
The skill positions look great as usual, but the success of the offense will come down to how much improvement the line has made. This unit has been the impetus from getting over the hump and winning the East.
The talent is there, the coaching is there, the East is in flux, but the schedule is brutal. From the West, the Gamecocks draw Alabama, Auburn, and Arkansas. They also have to travel to Florida this year.
The first SEC game against Georgia could make or break South Carolina's season. If they can get past the Bulldogs, who will starting a quarerback in his first road game, they have a chance in the East.
If not, then Spurrier's club will have to win the rest of their toss up games against Auburn, Arkansas, and Alabama (yes, the Tide will be vulnerable in this one).
7-5, Third SEC East
Thanks again to Leftover Hot Dog for their insight.