Saunders speaks out: Targets a concern

semerson@thestate.comNovember 8, 2009 

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - South Carolina's Weslye Saunders kept looking at his counterpart at Arkansas, and feeling envious.

D.J. Williams, the Arkansas tight end, was the featured receiver for the Razorbacks, catching seven passes for 145 yards.

Saunders, meanwhile, was absent from the Gamecock passing game in the first half of USC's 33-16 loss. He emerged in the second half, catching three passes for 55 yards, but also dropping a touchdown pass on the final drive.

Saunders hoped it was a sign that his involvement in the offense was going to increase again. But he sounded unsure.

Twice, the junior pointed out that Steve Spurrier Jr., the main play-caller on offense, coaches the receivers, who in Saunders' words are Spurrier Jr.'s "priority."

"Obviously I think I can help the team," Saunders said. "My blocking has improved, I feel. And I think I can also help the team in the passing game.

"I understand coach Spurrier Jr. is the receivers coach and he tries to get the ball to the receivers. But I do feel I can contribute to the offense, if I'm given the opportunity."

Spurrier Jr. was not requested by the media after the game.

Saunders has seemed an afterthought on the offense since the Georgia game. He had 12 catches for 146 yards over the Gamecocks' first two games.

He has 11 for 142 in the eight games since then. He missed one of them with an ankle injury.

The Gamecocks have managed to get big games, and big plays, from their receivers. Freshman Alshon Jeffery had an 80-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second half Saturday.

But Saunders feels he could help open it up more.

"We have great receivers, and we're trying to hit big plays. Coach Spurrier Jr. likes big plays. I understand that," he said. "But I go out there and work hard, I can't help but feel I could contribute to the offense, help open it up for the offense. I'm not asking for the ball all the time, I just want to be able to open it up for all the guys."

When he caught his first pass Saturday, a 26-yarder to convert a long third down, Saunders got up and pumped his fist at the sideline.

"They didn't look for me in the first half. I kind of felt like I should've been more involved," he said. "So (when) the second half started I promised coach I was gonna go out there and make a play and that was exactly what I tried to do. I looked to the sideline, tried to pump up my teammates, like come to me again, pretty much."

They did several more times. It remains to be seen how much that will continue in the next two games.

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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