South Carolina looks to notch fourth-consecutive win over Vols
After a three game stretch that saw South Carolina earn a reputation for blowing leads late in games, last weekend’s 52-7 pummeling of Arkansas was just what the doctor ordered for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina’s young defense finally managed to play consistently throughout a game, and the offense never let up, but coach Steve Spurrier said his team is far from complacent with its performance.
“Our guys are getting better, we think,” Spurrier said. “And there’s still a lot of room for improvement. But we’ve not done enough to think we’re hot stuff yet.”
As the score shows, the Gamecock offense ran like a well-oiled machine against the Razorbacks, but senior quarterback Connor Shaw agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“We’ve got to limit our mistakes, our careless mistakes,” Shaw said. “I had a careless turnover. There’s always something we can improve on, and I think eliminating mistakes, especially in a crucial game, is going to be key for us.”
Historically, South Carolina’s series with the Volunteers has been very one-sided. From the first annual meeting of the teams in 1992 to an overtime loss in 2007, Tennessee took 10 of 14 games. But starting in 2008, South Carolina has won three of the last four meetings.
The Gamecocks will look this weekend to win four straight against the Volunteers for the first time ever, and Spurrier pointed to recruiting to explain South Carolina’s resurgence in the SEC East rivalry.
“We’re starting the keep the best players in our state,” Spurrier said. “Historically, so many good players would leave our state and go to FSU, Georgia and Tennessee and so forth. So it’s important to keep the best players in-state.”
Many current Gamecocks are too young to remember Tennessee’s run of dominance — both over South Carolina and nationally — and treating the Volunteers as a younger brother in the conference has become a norm. Seniors like Shaw could become the first ever to go undefeated against Tennessee in their careers.
Forgetting wins and losses, the trip to Knoxville has increased significance for Spurrier, who spent much of his youth in the Volunteer state.
“It’s always a thrill to go there,” Spurrier said. “As a youngster growing up, somebody would give my dad three tickets, and he’d take my brother and I, and we’d go watch the Vols play. Yeah, it brings back a lot of memories.”
Aside from the history of the rivalry, Shaw pointed to the atmosphere of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium as a reason to be excited this weekend.
Now the fourth-largest football stadium in the country, renovations completed in 2010 expanded the stadium’s capacity to 102,455.
“It’s going to be an exciting game. It’s always fun going to Tennessee. They hold over 100,000,” Shaw said. “And we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
With Shaw landing at No. 3 in the SEC in quarterback rating and sophomore running back Mike Davis leading the conference in rushing, some Gamecock fans are calling for more coverage from the national media. But Spurrier insists his team is not fazed by such outside influences.
“I think having a wonderful season is a lot more important to [the players] than how much attention they get.” Spurrier said. “Ten years from now, people are not going to ask Connor Shaw, ‘How much attention did you get when you played?’ They’re going to ask him, ‘What was your dang record?’”
As the Gamecocks put their 5-1 (3-1 SEC) record on the line in Neyland Stadium, Spurrier stressed the importance of not resting on last weekend’s blowout victory.
“As we all know, as competitors, as any team, you have to have the ability to forget,” Spurrier said. “Forget bad games as well as good games. You’ve got to forget them and get ready for the next opponent, or else you’re setting yourself up to get clobbered the next week.”