College Sports

Gamecocks suddenly freefalling

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's descent has been as fast and sudden as a Darren McFadden touchdown run.

Three weeks ago, the Gamecocks were ranked No. 6 in the country, in first place in the SEC East and eyeing their first trip to the SEC championship game.

But three consecutive losses -- capped by Saturday's 48-36 defeat at Arkansas in one of the worst defensive performances in school history -- have sent USC spiraling out of the national rankings and all but eliminated the Gamecocks from the East race.

USC (6-4, 3-4 SEC) remains mathematically alive in the division, although Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier talked Sunday as though his team planned to move on to other goals.

Spurrier said in the preseason that one of the goals would be to win the SEC for the first time in school history if USC was in a position to do so.

"We were in position and that was our goal. We didn't do it. I didn't say we were going to do it," Spurrier said. "We were a longshot. We were picked fourth in the East by all the media experts because that's probably where we belong. We had one guy make preseason all-conference first team -- (injured linebacker) Jasper Brinkley. So it was a stretch.

"Sometimes I think you set your goals a little higher than what maybe your guys think you can achieve. And in the process maybe you can get close to it. We've still got two big games to determine if we can get close to it or not."

With games remaining against No. 17 Florida and 20th-ranked Clemson, Spurrier said the Gamecocks have other targets within reach, such as getting to seven wins and beating their in-state rivals.

But the first order of business should be fixing a defense that gave up the most total yards (651, surpassing Florida State's 638-yard total in 1988) and rushing yards (542, topping Georgia's 502 in 1974) in school history in the loss at Arkansas.

"It was pretty embarrassing the way they ran through us, very embarrassing," Spurrier said. "But I don't know if we should be completely shocked because we have struggled against the run most of the year."

McFadden sliced up one of the conference's worst rushing defenses, carrying 34 times for an SEC-record-tying 321 yards to jump back into Heisman Trophy contention.

McFadden, a junior expected to leave school early for the NFL, has 727 yards on 91 carries in three games against USC.

"McFadden may have an NCAA record for yards against a team. He's averaging over 200 a game against us," Spurrier said. "And he really hadn't done all that much the last few weeks, from what I read."

With McFadden and Felix Jones (166 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries) leading the way, the Razorbacks had the best rushing game by an SEC school against a conference opponent in SEC history.

USC defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said he did a "crappy job" of getting his players ready. Nix said the game reminded him of the 38-31 loss to Missouri in the 2005 Independence Bowl when the Gamecocks blew a pair of 21-point leads.

"We never stopped them. We never forced a punt the second half. We didn't do anything," Nix said. "We didn't do anything to help us win the game."

The loss dropped USC out of The Associated Press and USA Today polls. The Gamecocks spent eight consecutive weeks in the top 25, peaking at No. 6 on Oct. 14 after improving to 6-1 with a win at North Carolina.

But USC has since lost three consecutive games and needs to knock off Florida this week for Spurrier to avoid the second four-game losing streak of his career. Spurrier's first Duke team dropped four in a row in 1987.

"I knew when I took this job that it wasn't going to be quite the same as the Florida job," said Spurrier, who won six SEC titles and a national championship in 12 years at his alma mater. "But that's OK. I think our fans know it's a building situation."

Spurrier has said several times over the past couple weeks that the Gamecocks' best teams are a year or two away. Half of USC's 22 starters against Arkansas were underclassmen.

"We've got a lot of youngsters in there that hopefully will play a lot better," he said. "Now if they never get any better, then you can say, 'Hey, those guys are in trouble forever.'"

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