Steve Spurrier knows the annual Garnet & Black spring game is all about the fans having fun, the starters staying healthy, and the young players receiving some important live action in front of a crowd.
He understands things get much more serious at camp in early August, when the hitting starts for real and the season is just around the corner. That’s when his team will try to build on consecutive program-best 11-2 campaigns that ended with bowl victories.
As the expectations keep rising, he wanted to keep the focus on improving this spring and not let it rest on back-to-back Top 10 national finishes.
“We tried to get our team to be the best we can be. We’re not going to sit around here and talk about what we might do or can do. We’ll probably be preseason No. 10 (nationally) — eight to 10 to 12 the last two years has sort of been our spot,” Spurrier said. “We don’t want too much attention. We want just the normal amount and try to get our team ready to play. I think we do have a chance to have a good team, though.”
The spring game featured plenty of offense, as the Black outscored the Garnet 44-30. Spurrier loves offense and kept the fans entertained with 54 passes and 523 passing yards.
Tight end Jerell Adams caught a combined five passes for 112 yards for both sides, including touchdowns of 23 yards from Brendan Nosovitch and 59 yards from Connor Mitch. Fellow tight end Rory Anderson hauled in two passes for 50 yards.
“We’ve got two of the best tight ends around. Jerrell has really come around this spring, and Buster has gained over 30 pounds since he arrived here,” Spurrier said. “Both of them are tough. They don’t shy away from the ball. They block, and they’ve really improved their play.”
Quarterback Dylan Thompson, who completed 6 of 10 passes for 96 yards with one touchdown and one interception, believes the Gamecocks can continue to make headway as they compete for SEC and national titles.
Thompson, who engineered last season’s big win against Clemson and contributed the winning touchdown throw in the Outback Bowl against Michigan, is expected to split time in the fall with Connor Shaw, who sat out spring drills with a foot injury.
“We kind of want to reach that next level. You can’t be satisfied because, if you’re aiming for the same place you were last year, you probably won’t get there,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to have higher goals. Individually, it starts there, and as a team, you’ve got to have higher goals and work to achieve them.”
All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who sat out the spring game with a sprained neck, credited the team leaders the past two seasons for pushing the Gamecocks to greater heights such as those double-digit win totals. He wants to help set a standard that goes past that.
“I think our goal next year is going to be higher than what we did this 11-2 season. I think we should set it a little higher and come out there and compete,” Clowney said.
Although the defense lost a number of key players from a year ago, Spurrier likes what he sees in the younger returning players. He called the spring drills important for getting them ready to step into larger roles.
“We’re solid at a lot of positions. A lot of defensive players have not played much. We think they can,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was happy with the progress of his linebacking corps, which will feature all new starters.
“We’ve still got a ways to go, but I feel like we can get there,” he said.
Thompson remains confident the team can get there as a whole, citing its camaraderie as a significant factor.
“What we’re trying to do here is so team-oriented. I tell people, whether they believe me or not, is that we have the closest team I’ve ever played on,” Thompson said. “We’re always hanging out together, always joking around, goofing off together, everything is so much togetherness. I think that speaks a lot to our success.”
GRT - Jerell Adams 23 yd pass from B. Nosovitch (N. St. Germain kick)
BLK - Shaq Roland 6 yd pass from Dylan Thompson (Landon Ard kick)
GRT - N. St. Germain 35 yd field goal
BLK - Mike Davis 25 yd run (Landon Ard kick)
GRT - N. St. Germain 40 yd field goal
BLK - Landon Ard 40 yd field goal
BLK - Kyle Fleetwood 7 yd fumble recovery (Landon Ard kick)
GRT - Jerell Adams 59 yd pass from Connor Mitch (N. St. Germain kick)
BLK - Jake Joyner 40 yd field goal
GRT - Caleb Kelly 40 yd field goal
GRT - Jeff Homad 12 yd pass from B. Nosovitch (N. St. Germain kick)
BLK - Kendric Salley 5 yd run (Landon Ard kick)
BLK - Landon Ard 40 yd field goal
BLK - Matthew Harvey 8 yd pass from Austin Hails (Landon Ard kick)