COLUMBIA — Since the SEC East race has already been decided with South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC) ending up third behind Georgia and Florida, the Gamecocks will focus on achieving additional goals as they prepare to face Wofford on Saturday (1 p.m., pay-per-view) at Williams-Brice Stadium.
In the eyes of coach Steve Spurrier, the most important objective for USC to strive for this week is finishing with a perfect 7-0 home mark this season, a rare accomplishment in the program’s history. The last time it happened was 1987.
In fact, a 7-0 home record has occurred just four times: 1979, 1980, 1984 and 1987. The 1978-80 teams featuring Heisman Trophy running back George Rogers still hold the school record for most consecutive home wins, with 15.
USC has won 10 straight home games, the longest stretch since joining the SEC, and another win over the Terriers would put the Gamecocks two wins shy of the second-longest home streak in school history.
“This is a huge game for us. We’ve got a chance to win seven games at home for the first time in 25 years,” Spurrier said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “Our players understand the importance of this game and they understand Wofford is a team that with a play or two, can easily beat us this Saturday. We really need to be ready to play if we’re going to beat them and win seven home games.”
“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got to see if we can win our ninth game of the year and go from there. We’re out of the SEC now. We’re after wins. We’re after total wins and winning all of them at home. That’s what we’re after. SEC, division, all that’s history. We’ll get back into that next year. Now we’re into total wins and trying to beat Wofford.”
Quarterback Connor Shaw, nursing a sprained foot, did not practice on Monday, but was to participate in Tuesday’s workout and is expected to be ready to play on Saturday when USC squares off with Wofford for the fourth time since 2001.
Shaw completed 36-of-54 passes for 628 yards and five touchdowns in the recent home wins over Tennessee and Arkansas after being pulled at halftime in the road loss at Florida.
“He’s done a lot better since we got back from Florida,” Spurrier said. “He’s hanging in there. I wish out protection was a little bit better. But that fourth-and-5 touchdown throw to Bruce Ellington was a heck of a play. He had an excellent game. He was one guy that we called out for having a super game last week. Our protection and line play needs to improve. We’ll just keep working with those guys and see if we can’t get better.”
Sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney also sat out of Monday’s practice with the same foot ailment that has bothered him for most of the season. Again, the injury shouldn’t affect Clowney’s status for Saturday.
“He sort of re-injured his foot a little bit in the fourth quarter of the game last week, but he should be ready to play Saturday and go from there,” Spurrier said.
Since the FBS regular season was expanded to 12 games in 2006, the Gamecocks have hosted an in-state FCS opponent every year, defeating Wofford (2006 and 2008), South Carolina State (2007 and 2009), Furman (2010) and The Citadel (2011). Coastal Carolina joins the rotation in 2013.
Spurrier is 46-0 in his lengthy coaching career against schools from outside the BCS conferences, including 21-0 in eight seasons at USC. Already this season, the Gamecocks have walloped East Carolina and UAB from Conference USA.
The Gamecocks will also try to extend their regular-season non-conference winning streak to 15 games. The last regular-season loss to a non-SEC team came in 2008 at Clemson.
However, beating Wofford has been a struggle for the Gamecocks in the past, and Saturday’s matchup should offer more of the same. Wofford runs the triple option (also referred to as the wingbone) with precision, often befuddling opposing defenses that don’t face it the rest of the year.
Last year, Wofford battled Clemson to the wire before falling 35-27 in an early-season contest in the Upstate. The score was tied 21-21 at halftime and the Tigers led by just one point, 28-27, after three quarters.
“They’ve had us on the ropes both times we’ve played them and we’re expecting a very similar game,” Spurrier said. “They just play fundamentally sound. But we’re going to be ready to play. If they beat us, it wasn’t because we were screwing around all week. We’re going to have a good week of practice and we’re going to try to get this game.”
Wofford, led the past three seasons by all-time leading rusher Eric Breitenstein (also the Southern Conference’s leading rusher with 1,528 yards), has posted a winning record in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
Mike Ayers is 170-113-1 in 25 seasons as Wofford coach, including three 10-win seasons.
“Coach Ayers and his staff do a super job of coaching their players,” Spurrier said. “They’re as fundamentally sound as any team we play. He gets the most out of his players. They have played very consistently year-in and year-out with their triple option. Run the ball, play very sound defense and very sound special teams. They have always given us a very close game that, except for one or two plays, they could have beaten us both prior times.”
Wofford’s only two losses this season have come to Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the two teams the Terriers are sharing the Southern Conference title with. Both of those teams run similar offenses and understand how to defend the triple option.