COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier has long rebuffed excessive physical contact in practice, but last Thursday night’s “embarrassing” performance against Texas A&M might have changed his mind.
Five days after the Gamecocks were whipped on both sides of the ball in a frustrating 52-28 loss to the underrated Aggies, Spurrier contended Tuesday that USC will promote more full-team battles between the offensive line and defensive line during practice this week.
“Our practice routine is a little different. We’ll have a few changes on offense and defense,” Spurrier said during his weekly press conference at Williams-Brice Stadium. “I’m not going to go into details, but we’re just being a little more competitive — first team vs. first (team) on some things. We’re still not tackling to the ground, getting guys hurt, stuff like that. But we’ve just tried to keep our guys moving better, a sense of urgency.
“It seems like we’ve been a bit lackadaisical. Obviously, we didn’t play fast. The other team was a lot fast than us in the last game. We’re just trying to get our guys moving at a faster pace all the time, very little standing around watching each other.”
Since USC was soundly beaten by Texas A&M in the trenches on both sides of the ball (run blocking and pass protection were subpar, plus nonexistent pass rush), the Gamecocks offensive and defensive lines will mimic that popular Olivia Newton-John song from the 1980s in practice this week — “Let’s get physical.”
“When we do pass protections, we’ve got all four of them up there blocking instead of one at a time,” Spurrier said. “We’ve got all four defensive guys rushing. We had five offensive linemen against four defensive guys.
“We’ll do that all week because we’re not real good on pass protection and we’re not very good on pass rush, so we’re going to practice the heck out of it and see if we can get better. Stuff like that we need to do more of.”
Spurrier vowed a “few changes” on offense and defense were forthcoming, but declined to offer specifics beyond saying redshirt freshmen Alan Knott and redshirt junior Will Sport would get greater opportunities at center and/or right guard, hinting USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was unhappy with the performances at those two spots against Texas A&M.
“Alan Knott is a pretty good player in there,” Spurrier said. “He hasn’t played much yet here, but he’s probably going to get a chance. Sport’s going to get a good chance there at right guard. The (offensive) line could have played a lot better. We certainly hope so.”
Defensively, how much blame does the newfangled 3-4 scheme deserve as opposed to the players failing to execute the game plan and/or their assignments properly? Spurrier said both areas were at fault.
“Probably all,” Spurrier said. “(It was) scheme related sometimes. The ball is being thrown over there and (USC’s players) were running over that way for some reason. We had some players get confused at times and the other team executed pretty well.”
More from Gamecock Central
Surely, significant progression is required against an improving ECU team eyeing its first victory over the Gamecocks since 1999. ECU coach Ruffin McNeill was the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, so the Pirates run the “Air Raid” offense, a forerunner to many of today’s spread, up-tempo schemes.
“They play with confidence,” said Spurrier, still in search of his 200th victory as a SEC head coach and 50th home win with the Gamecocks (49-15 record at Williams-Brice Stadium). “They play a little like Texas A&M on offense. The quarterback gets the ball out of his hands quickly. They have excellent receivers and a pretty good running game. Their defense has been solid. That’s how you win 10 games.”
Spurrier did deliver one piece of good news on Tuesday - top running back Mike Davis has been upgraded to probable for Saturday’s game after being described as “sort of doubtful” on Sunday. Davis rushed for 15 yards on six carries before exiting with painful bruised ribs.
“I think he is going to be available now,” Spurrier said. “He has gotten some treatment on his bruised ribs and there is a good chance he will be available,” Spurrier said. “He has been banged up a little bit. He was banged up during the summer when he pulled a hamstring and missed about half the workouts. Hopefully, he will get back. There were some blocking errors in there (in the opener). He didn’t have much room.”
Spurrier reiterated redshirt freshman David Williams, who has yet to carry the ball in his brief career, would likely get a chance to play Saturday night as USC looks to bolster a ground game that gained just 67 yards on 22 attempts against Texas A&M.
“We need to get David out there,” Spurrier said. “We’ve told David that he’s going to carry the ball some, so he is. He’ll be out there. He’s not really had the chance to play here much yet. It’s hard to rotate four running backs. But David’s been here a good solid year and a half and I think he deserves the chance to carry a few and hopefully, we can get some decent blocking for him.”
USC’s run-pass ratio was almost 2-to-1 in favor of the pass on Thursday night (40 passes, 22 rushes), an imbalance Spurrier hopes to correct this week.
Then again, most aspects of the Gamecocks required a massive tuneup following the 24-point opening game loss.
“We’re still and will always be embarrassed by our performance the last game,” Spurrier said. “We realize it’s history and we realize the only thing we can do is learn from it, try to play a whole bunch better and coach a whole bunch better the next time out.”
“Obviously we’ve got to do some things differently around here or we’re in for a long season. We’ll try to do that and try to put a team on the field our Gamecocks fans can be proud of this Saturday night. We think we have the players to fix it so we’re going to find out.”
* Spurrier said injured OL Mike Matulis (severely sprained knee) is walking around on crutches, but won’t return until midseason at the earliest.
* Spurrier on quarterback Dylan Thompson’s outing in the opener: “Dylan had a lot of good plays the other night and he had some plays he could’ve performed better. He got hung up a few times on the wrong side (of the field) and should’ve come to the other side, little things like that. But he hadn’t played all that much. But he had some beautiful deep balls to Nicky and Damiere. The one to Nicky was an excellent throw. Our protection was not very good the other night, and that contributed to some errant plays, too.”
* USC is No. 21 in the coaches poll and No. 21 in the AP poll, which was released Tuesday afternoon, in the wake of the five-day opening weekend. USC has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for 66 straight weeks.
* East Carolina, now a member of the AAC, begins an enticing three-game stretch against opponents from Big 5 Conferences: USC, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. “They’ve got a schedule this year that they’re sort of dreaming about beating everybody,” Spurrier said. “After these next three games, they feel pretty confident in all the other games. They might be favored in some of these games (against Big 5 schools).”
* Spurrier hesitated to describe the ECU as a “season saver.”