College Sports

Gamecocks hoping for best against Vols

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spent the first five minutes of Tuesday's press conference apologizing for his team's rotten performance against Vanderbilt last week.

He spent the next 20 saying he hoped -- not that it would -- get a lot better.

"Certainly, the fans probably had a right to boo because it just appeared our guys didn't give a damn, to tell you the truth," Spurrier said. "It was embarrassing for our offense, and I coach the offense.

"So shoot, I've apologized every year for a bad play and probably ought to again."

It'd be natural to expect Spurrier to follow up a criticism of his team with a promise to do better, a battle cry to rally the troops. Instead, the No. 15 Gamecocks' skipper said:

• "This is not the best team we're ever going to have here."

• "There's not any huge pressure that we have to win the SEC when we were picked fourth in our own division this year."

• "This is our third year here. Sometimes that third year is sometimes your worst year."

Spurrier wasn't telling his fans to give up their dreams of an SEC championship, still very attainable despite the loss to Vandy. He also wasn't telling them to quit booing him, because he'd rather hear it than have it heaped on his players.

He was basically telling everyone the truth -- USC (6-2, 3-2 SEC) has a chance to win the SEC.

But that chance won't come close to happening unless the Gamecocks pick up their fallen pride and make sure what happened against Vandy doesn't happen again.

"The team talked amongst ourselves and said, 'We got to do it,' because that's our goal, to win the SEC championship," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.

It begins this week at Tennessee (4-3, 2-2), an opponent that's been a huge hurdle to clear during USC's tenure in the SEC and one that's having its own run of hard times. The Volunteers were spanked 41-17 by Alabama last week, the worst loss coach Phillip Fulmer's ever had to the Crimson Tide.

The loss to Vanderbilt dropped the Gamecocks into a five-way (out of six teams) tie for first place in the SEC East, with every team in the division still holding a realistic shot of winning the title. The Gamecocks and Vols each know what they have to do to win.

But for USC, it's much simpler. Win out, and the Gamecocks win the title. It won't be easy -- at Tennessee, at Arkansas, home against No. 9 Florida -- but it's possible.

The players recognized it and said as much after Spurrier was done speaking. None of them were trying to put a good face on last week.

"Yeah, but what can you say?," tight end Jared Cook answered about how belittling the Vanderbilt loss was. "The only thing we can do is improve. We have no choice but to. We can't have another performance like we did last week."

Spurrier laid it on the line. The awful pass-blocking which led to the bad quarterback play has been the biggest problem, and while it's not easy to find an answer, he's got to find something his offense can run.

"It comes down to blocking and playmakers," he said. "We had some good plays on, we just didn't hit."

• When: 7:45 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.

• TV: ESPN (cable channel 25 in Rock Hill)

• Tickets: Sold out