Coach Steve Spurrier spent much of the pre-season talking about his team’s goals, including contending for the SEC Championship. By mid-season, his team was 6-1, ranked 6th in the country, and all the goals seemed to be on track. South Carolina didn’t win another ball game the rest of the year, losing their last five games. Sunday, they got the bad news that they would not get to go to a bowl game this year.
When announcing the news about missing a bowl, Spurrier said, “Yes, we’ve learned some humility around here. I’ve learned some. Our whole team has learned some.”
“We’re a little disappointed we didn’t get to a bowl game,” he said. “It came down to us and Alabama, and the Independence Bowl felt like they were the closest school and could bring a few more people. We understand we have no one to blame but ourselves. We had five games to win number seven and we didn’t get it done. We had our chances - guys played pretty well a lot of times, we coached well a lot of times. We didn’t play so well, didn’t coach so well a lot of times. Ended up 6-6. We are disappointed, but not really discouraged. We realize we had very few seniors that played a whole bunch this year, and we feel like we’re going to be a stronger team next year.”
“I just want to encourage our fans to hang in there with us. It didn’t work out this year. There were some reasons,” Spurrier said. “We are going to work hard to be a stronger team next year.”
The coach talked about the season just concluded before talking about the future. He made it clear he was still smarting from the loss to Clemson: “Hard getting over that last game, to tell you the truth. We had a wonderful opportunity and we didn’t get it done - offensively, defensively, or coaching wise. A play or two here or there might have changed it, and that would have put us in position. We didn’t, we have no excuses. It just wasn’t good enough this year.”
Talking about the last five games, he said, “You always look back and wonder what you could have done differently. (We) struggled the second half at North Carolina and held on to win. We felt like during that week that Blake deserved to play, and he did play the next game against Vandy. Like Rich Rodriquez said yesterday, that was a nightmare for his offense, it was a nightmare for our offense that game. We did nothing right, seven sacks, and five false starts by the offensive line, and it started a tailspin. So maybe we should have just said, 'Let’s let Chris Smelley start and see what happens,' but I don’t think that’s a big reason. Obviously, the Tennessee game we were in excellent position to win it, and didn’t do it. Excellent position at the end of the Clemson game, and didn’t do it. I really think our players played pretty hard, played with a lot of effort. I’m proud of that effort that last game. I wish we could have helped them just a little bit more as coaches. Maybe it would have worked out. It didn’t, and we have to move on and strengthen our team for next year.”
Moving on, he said, “Right now we need to finish up this recruiting season, finish up a good semester academically, and get ready for spring ball and try to build a much stronger team for next season.”
When asked about his staff’s targets for recruiting this season, he said, “We’re trying to find a few more linebackers, a few defensive backs, always an offensive lineman or two to build on, one or two wide receivers and running backs. We’re excited about the wide receivers we signed last year. We think those guys can develop into outstanding players. We’ve been here three years now. When the NFL draft rolls around, you can sort of tell what kind of team you’ve had talent-wise, what kind of strengths on the team you’ve had. We’ve had three defensive backs and wide receivers drafted. Someday I hope we have some linemen drafted, and some linebackers.”
Referring to this year’s seniors hoping to move on to the pros, he said, “Hopefully Casper Brinkley and Cory Boyd have a chance, maybe some of the others, I’m not sure who else is even being considered right now of our seniors. In the future, we need to get a bunch of offensive and defensive linemen drafted. I think that can happen.”
He stated that he was confident that Jasper Brinkley and Kenny McKinley “will do what they said and keep their word and come back” for the 2008 season.
Inevitably, when a team has the kind of break downs that USC had the second half of the season, questions arise about potential changes in the coaching staff. As would be expected, and as he has done the previous two seasons, Spurrier played his cards close to the vest when he said, “Any staff changes that happen within the next month or so, we’ll certainly let you know when they happen. Tyrone is up for that Southern Miss job; maybe some of our other coaches will get some opportunities. We’ll wait and see and go from there.” Spurrier made an interesting comment in his last teleconference of the season when he told reporters at the end of the call that he would be talking to them in the next week or two.
One possible change in the coaching is staff is public knowledge. “Tyrone Nix is up for the Southern Miss head coaching job. I really think he’s got a good shot at it. He would be an excellent head coach at Southern Miss. He went there, played there, coached there, has a lot of experience. I always want to see my assistant coaches move up, and I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for him.”
Spurrier is perhaps best known throughout his coaching career for his high-flying offenses, something that was notably missing his first three years at Carolina. Quarterback Stephen Garcia is one of the highest profile players to sign thus far with the Gamecocks under Spurrier, and was redshirted this season. The head ball coach dismissed rumors of his taking other coaching jobs by stating he planned on being here five years from now to coach Garcia and the other players he and his staff have brought in. When asked about the mobile Garcia, he said, “The more I watch college football, the more I realize the importance of a quarterback that can just move around a little bit. He doesn’t have to be a tremendously running quarterback, he needs to be able to jump up and make five to seven yards every now and then. Stephen can do that. He’s a good athlete who can run around, and he’s an excellent passer. He’s got a lot to learn. A lot to learn. But that’s why we have practice. And when we come out of spring practice, he (Garcia), Smelley and Tommy Beecher will compete to see who will be number one. We’re looking forward to that, and looking forward to seeing how Stephen Garcia can learn what we’re trying to do. We’ll put in some quarterback run stuff, like everybody else does, and see if that won’t help our offense, and go from there.”
Running back Cory Boyd’s days as a Gamecock are now over, and his backfield mate Mike Davis didn’t see as much action late in the season as he had previously. When asked about Davis, Spurrier said, “Mike just didn’t get a lot of opportunities. We weren’t on the field that much, we only had 52 plays compared to 85 for Clemson in the last game. Our defense struggled against the run. If the other team is running up and down the field on you, they’ll control the clock, and you’re not going to get a bunch of plays, generally. We’ve got some issues we’ve got to straighten out before we’re going to be a team that can compete for the SEC championship. And Mike Davis will hopefully have a good off-season and come back and be our starting tailback next year.”
Brian Maddox will also return at running back as a sophomore, as will Bobby Wallace, who redshirted due to an injury this season. The Gamecocks will also have some talented freshmen backs coming in for next season.
“If we’re going to really compete,” Spurrier said, “we’re not going to be the bottom of the league in run offense and run defense. We’ve got to run it, and we’ve got to stop the run. One of our big goals this spring and in this off-season is to develop a stronger team. We’ve got to stop the run. We’ve got some coaching and weight-lifting, we’ve got a lot of things to try and get better at if we’re going to be a really challenging team in the SEC.”
"On the other side, I want to remind our fans we’ve beaten every team in our division in the three years (since coaching here at USC). Now, we haven’t beaten them every year. We’ve got a win over Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee, lost some close ones to all of them. We’re not that far off. We need to become a much stronger team for next year. We’re still building, and we’re maintaining a positive attitude. We’re excited about the future.”
Notes: When asked how he voted for the top two spots in the coaches’ poll, he said, “(My) ballot was determined on how I saw it. Oklahoma and LSU were the top two teams in the country. It was difficult (differentiating between the top four or five teams). It was my opinion and the way I voted it. I’m sure everybody else had a different opinion. Voting is part of college football since there is no playoff system, and that’s the way I saw it.”