South Carolina-Florida: Spurrier Comes Home to Gainesville

Tim PollockSenior Writer INovember 12, 2008

This Saturday—for the second time since taking over at South Carolina—Steve Spurrier comes back to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the place where he starred as a player and ran up scores as the head coach.

To this day, even though he coaches at an SEC East rival, the Swamp is still filled with plenty of Spurrier reminders.

His name and number adorn the stadium walls—after Spurrier was part of Florida’s first “Ring of Honor” creation, and the Gators' new multimillion-dollar football facility prominently displays Spurrier’s jersey next to the two other Gator Heisman winners. 

Plaques of Spurrier’s SEC Championships and Coach of the Year Awards are still there, too. 

All that said, The Head Ball Coach continues to downplay the idea of “Spurrier vs. his old team,” instead insisting that “it’s the Gamecocks versus the Gators.”

But we all know better.

This game is special and always will be—as long as SOS is at Carolina. 

In Spurrier’s three chances against his former team, his record is 1-2, but who can forget the 2006 game, where Florida was outplayed by the Gamecocks and needed a blocked field goal to preserve the win. 

Urban Meyer has since gone on record as saying he did not coach well in that game and vows to not let it happen again. 

But it seems people are jumping the gun on this game, proclaiming this as the battle of offense versus defense: Florida’s high powered skill players matched up with Carolina’s defense, which is both smothering and nationally ranked in nearly every category. 

Methinks there is more to it than that, though, fellow droogs. 

The key to this game seems to be the complete opposite:  how South Carolina’s one-dimensional offense can perform against Florida’s ball-hawking defense, which isn’t too shabby either.

The Gators have stuffed the two top runners they have faced—holding Charles Scott to 35 yards and Knowshon Moreno to 65 yards.  Meanwhile, Carolina has no threat at running back, as they are only averaging roughly 100 yards per game—dead last in the SEC.

The lack of a running game could be bad news for Stephen Garcia, and particularly the immobile Chris Smelley, who will likely see a lot of Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunalp, and Brandon Spikes.  Even the Gator tackles, Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh, could be spending a good part of the afternoon in the Gamecock backfield. 

The Gamecocks have given up a whopping 33 sacks this year, and the Gator bookends can flat out get to the quarterback. 

Did I mention the Gators are only allowing a league-leading 11.9 points per game?

The stats certainly don’t favor Carolina, but then again—it is Spurrier we are talking about. 

While he doesn’t have the offensive talent other SEC schools have, the Head Ball Coach should have some surprises ready for his old club.  You just wonder if it’s enough to be competitive in the fourth quarter.  

There are also a handful of other intriguing storylines.

Stephen Garcia returns to his home state and will face a coach who heavily recruited him. 

Garcia has the moxie coaches talk about.  He can handle the criticism from Spurrier, he has a great rapport with his teammates, and the kid is a tough competitor.

Garcia has proven himself to be a gamer.  Despite a limited understanding of the offense to this point, he has made plays simply with his athleticism.  It will be interesting to see how he performs in front of family and friends—and another CBS audience.  My gut says he will come out looking sharp.       

On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina safety Chris Culliver will miss the first half, and possibly the whole game, after taking a swipe at an Arkansas player last week.  This is a big blow to Carolina, as his replacement—diminutive freshman Akeem Auguste—lacks the size, experience, and big-hitting of Culliver.

However, Culliver’s loss also hits the Gamecock kick return team, as Culliver is the third highest return man in the SEC, averaging over 26 yards per return.

Even if Culliver does return for second half action, it might be too late.

Another special teams tidbit to watch is the punting game.  Ray Rychleski’s teams have never had a punt blocked in his eight years as special teams coach.  But even if the Gators don’t block a punt, there is still Brandon James to worry about. 
Perhaps the real plot to watch unfold, though, is the Jasper Brinkley vs. Tim Tebow showdown. Two years ago, Brinkley was one of the rare humans to lay the wood on Number 15. 

After missing last year’s game due to injury, Brinkley is ready to roll this season, telling The State newspaper that the Tebow machine is somewhat overrated—and bringing him down isn’t as hard as many say it is. 

“Until I can see different,” Brinkley said, “by contact with him…he’s still [just] a quarterback to me.”

Brinkley clearly believes in his defense, saying:  “We got 11 guys on the defensive side of the ball that love to get to the ball and make contact.  I think that can kind of even out.”

Defenders have made similar remarks in the past about Tebow and the Gators—and with limited success backing it up.  We’ll find out if it in fact evens out. 

My hunch is that it won’t.

The matchups simply favor the Gators in too many areas—and despite the near shocker Carolina pulled in 2006, this Gator bunch is much different from that year’s championship team, namely on the offensive side of the ball. 

The Gamecock defense will do what it can, but you can only give the Gators the short field to work with so many times before it burns you.   

Spurrier will get as much as he can out of Garcia and Smelley, but eventually a big play will work against the inexperienced Gamecock offense—and that’s when I see the doors blowing off and the Gators pulling away. 

Game Prediction:  Gators 45, Gamecocks 24


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