Fresh off a potentially crushing loss to Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks must turn around and face the number two team in the nation, the Georgia Bulldogs. With some fans thinking the season is a lost cause, Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks are out to prove that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of their demise are greatly exaggerated.
“This is the fourth time I’ve had a chance to go at them since I’ve been here,” said Spurrier during his press conference Tuesday. “We’ve always had pretty close games. We won one close one and lost one close one. Even the year we were shutout we were down at their one-yard line a couple of times. We’ve had three competitive games.”
Beating Georgia would not only change the season outlook for Carolina, but it would also make some program history. The Gamecocks have never beaten a team ranked as high as second in the country. In fact, the only top five team to ever fall to South Carolina was North Carolina, who was ranked third in 1981 when they lost 31-13 in Chapel Hill.
“We have a chance to do some history around here, so that opportunity presents itself and that’s something we can try to do,” Spurrier said. “We’ve really been competitive in about all of our games. We’ve not really gotten hammered too much through the years. We feel like we can play with anybody, we do.”
The Gamecocks will most likely be trying to make history without their best offensive player. Although he is listed on the depth chart, Spurrier confirmed that he does not expect wide receiver Kenny McKinley to play. McKinley inured his hamstring in the first quarter against Vanderbilt. In his place, a trio of untested young receivers will get a shot to make some plays.
“Joes Hills is actually going to start,” Spurrier said, “and Jason Barnes is a backup at several positions. We’re trying to get C.C. Whitlock involved too.”
Jamon Meredith, who will return from a two game suspension, is listed on the depth chart as the co-starter at left guard with Lemuel Jeanpierre. However, Spurrier said that no decision has been whether Meredith will play guard or left tackle, as he has done throughout his career.
“Jamon Meredith will be back this week,” he said. “Hopefully that will help either at left guard or left tackle.”
Meredith is being counted on to help an offensive line that has been very inconsistent in opening holes for the running backs and providing time for the quarterbacks. At times during the first two games, the line has opened gaping lanes for running back Mike Davis, but at other times Davis has been lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. Similarly, the quarterbacks have been able to find some open receivers, but on critical plays late in the Vanderbilt game, the Commodores were able to sack the quarterback. Spurrier said some of that responsibility falls on the quarterback though.
“We certainly need to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker at times,” he said. “Linemen are going to sometimes come free, you’re not going to have perfect protection all day. There’s going to be times you have to sidestep and throw it away. We’re trying to teach our guys of doing a better job of getting rid of it.”
Who will be getting rid of the ball is another question. Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, and Spurrier has not revealed who will actually make the start, but he has said both will play.
“As far as our quarterback situation, there’s a good chance both of them might play,” said Spurrier. “I don’t know how else to do but to get both of them ready. The one who starts the game will have an excellent opportunity to go maybe the distance, and we’ll have the other guy ready. Right now Chris and Tommy are performing sort of evenly. Statistically Chris is better, but we felt like Tommy certainly potentially can do some things to give us a chance to win the game.”
One quarterback who will not play is redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia. With neither Beecher nor Smelley giving a spectacular performance, there has been some clamoring for Spurrier to insert the highly-touted young signal-caller. Garcia has made some improvement this fall, enough that he could play in an emergency, but not enough to move beyond being “solidly third team,” as Spurrier once described him.
“He’s getting better,” Spurrier said. “He’s working hard, he really is. He’s studying his plays, and he has really improved from last year when he was just around. I think Stephen has matured a bit and hopefully wants to do the right things around here now. I don’t think he’s ready to go this week, but he’s getting a lot of snaps [in the scrimmages for players who do not play in the games]. We’ll wait and see as the season progresses [if he can contribute].”
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