Any trip to Florida is a homecoming of sorts for Steve Spurrier.
He was born and raised in Tennessee and has lived in South Carolina the past seven years, but the Sunshine State is his adopted home, and the No. 11 Gamecocks’ practices here have seen a steady stream of visitors stopping by to see the Head Ball Coach.
One was Mike Pearson, who played on the offensive line on Spurrier’s final three Gator teams from 1999 to 2001. Pearson’s visit reminded Spurrier of that 2001 team, his last at Florida. It finished the season 10-2, the same mark this South Carolina team holds heading into Tuesday’s Outback Bowl against Michigan.
That Gators team was dominant — first in the SEC in offense and defense, winner of the Orange Bowl and ranked No. 3 in the country after the season. Fast forward 11 years, and here’s South Carolina at a very different 10-2. The Gamecocks are fourth in the conference in defense but 10th in offense.
“There are all kinds of ways to be 10-2,” Spurrier said. “That’s why I’m really proud of the team we have here at South Carolina this year. These guys have played pretty doggone well for the talent level we have.”
The Gamecocks’ offense didn’t put a player on this year’s All-SEC first team and put two on the second team (center T.J. Johnson and all-purpose player Ace Sanders). USC’s yards-per-rush average (3.6) is the lowest in the SEC, and its passing offense is ranked seventh in the league (229.5 yards per game).
The numbers aren’t “overly impressive,” Spurrier said, but the result has been the second straight double-digit victory season in school history. The offense comes into the bowl game feeling like it has momentum in both areas of its attack, said run game coordinator Shawn Elliott and wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.
The offensive line has started the same front five for four straight games, which has coincided with a four-game winning streak.
“Consistency is the biggest thing you’ve got to have, especially with your guys up front,” Elliott said. “We had some rotation problems early on. Mike Matulis got hurt. Cody Gibson went out sick. Then you didn’t have a rotation. Different alignments, different guys playing beside each other causes concern. Now that we’ve had a four-game stretch where it’s been pretty much the same guys in there the whole time, we are feeling pretty confident.”
Spurrier called the Gamecocks’ run blocking “OK, not super.”
The passing game got a boost against Clemson when Bruce Ellington caught a pair of touchdown passes and Ace Sanders caught another.
“That was good for our guys,” Spurrier Jr. said.
The strength of the Michigan defense statistically is its pass defense, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation, giving up 155.2 yards per game. The Wolverines’ rushing defense is ranked No. 56 in the nation, giving up 156 yards per game.
Those numbers won’t be the deciding factor in South Carolina’s game plan, though, Elliott said.
“The game kind of dictates that,” he said. “If you find something you are doing successfully, you are going to stick with it.”
Sunday practice highlights