COLUMBIA — South Carolina has won 13 straight home games, tying the second-longest streak in school history.
The road, though, has been a different story, especially against ranked opponents as the recent setback at Georgia demonstrated when the defense struggled to stop the Bulldogs at any point in the game.
Since the last home loss to Auburn on Oct. 1, 2011, the Gamecocks are 5-4 on the road, 1-4 against ranked opponents, meaning they are 4-0 when facing non-ranked foes on their home field.
“We have a pretty good streak going here at home, but now we need to start playing better on the road,” Steve Spurrier said Wednesday during his weekly appearance on the SEC teleconference.
In three of the four road losses to ranked opponents, USC surrendered 41 or more points (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia). However, the average attendance at those four contests was 87,530. Contrastly, a sellout crowd of 45,323 (51.8 percent of that average) is expected for Saturday’s nationally televised noon showdown with surging UCF at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
“They have a lot of momentum going,” Spurrier said of the Knights. “We’re going to have to go down there and try to play our best game. It will be a full house and it’s really one of the big games on our schedule this year.”
Victor Hampton will resume returning punts on a full-time basis against UCF after dividing those duties with Bruce Ellington two weekends ago against Vanderbilt.
The principal improvement, though, must occur in front of Hampton, Spurrier said.
“Hopefully, we can get him some blocking and get him a punt that he has a chance to return,” Spurrier said. “It’s difficult nowadays because teams cover so well. Punters sometimes don’t kick that nice 45-yard low punt that you would like to have for a return. So, hopefully, we can get Victor some blocks and he’ll have an opportunity to run some back. He is a very good punt returner. But we have to force punts first and go from there.”
Hampton has returned four punts for 18 yards this season, an average of 4.5 yards per return. His longest return is 13 yards. USC is 13th in the SEC in punt return average (4.2 yards), so Spurrier hopes Hampton, along with better blocking, is able to provide a spark.
* Spurrier said USC is getting healthier heading into the UCF game. Center Cody Waldrop, who missed the last two games with a foot sprain, is “available and should be ready to play.” Backup Clayton Stadnik, who has filled in admirably, should play as well. “We’re pretty much full speed and looking forward to playing Central Florida,” he said.
* Spurrier said USC’s non-conference scheduling philosophy likely won’t change — Clemson, ACC-caliber school (UNC, N.C. State, etc.), a Palmetto State Division I-AA (FCS) school willing to come to Williams-Brice Stadium and another opponent. The 2014 list of non-conference opponents includes East Carolina (9/6), Furman (10/18), South Alabama (11/22) and at Clemson (11/29).
* Spurrier reiterated some non-conference games are more important than SEC games, pointing to the North Carolina and Clemson games for the Gamecocks and the annual Florida State clash for Florida. “Every year we play Clemson and a lot of fans think that’s the biggest game of the year,” Spurrier said. “Some Florida fans think the FSU game is the biggest of the year. There’s big games outside the conference for our schools.”
* Spurrier on The Swamp in Gainesville: “Swamp is just a fun word to say. That’s why it stuck.”
* Spurrier said he has enjoyed a good relationship with the head coaches that have followed him at Florida — Ron Zook, Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp. “They know I pull for Florida just about every game but ours and any game they need to lose for us to win the division. I’m a Gamecock all the way.”
* Spurrier said he is good friends with former USC head coach Lou Holtz. “That’s what you should do,” Spurrier said.
* Spurrier on Kentucky, which USC faces Oct. 5 at Williams-Brice Stadium: “Mark Stoops has those guys playing with a lot of effort and energy up there. They’re certainly capable of winning some games.”
* Spurrier again voiced support for the new targeting rule but remains concerned it “gives a lot of power to the referee.” He has seen a number of ejections overturned on TV. “But I think it’s a good rule. Those guys that spear and hit with the crown of their helmet need to be thrown out of the game,” Spurrier said. “But sometimes there will be some (inadvertent) helmet-to-helmet, bumping heads when guys are going for balls. Hopefully, the referees will apply the rule correctly all the time because it’s a pretty severe penalty for the hit.”