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Spurrier keeps blowout expectations to minimum

When Steve Spurrier opened his weekly news conference Tuesday, he said the usual nice things about South Carolina State, the small school that most expect USC to beat Saturday.

But Spurrier's forecast for the game probably differed from most.

"Looking forward to a knockdown, drag-out, down to the wire ballgame - like most of ours seem to be," the coach said.

No, Lou Holtz was not back at the lectern. The evidence supports Spurrier's hypothesis that the Gamecocks probably will not blow out the Bulldogs.

You need only look at the last time these teams met.

Two years ago, South Carolina was coming off a huge win at No. 11 Georgia. When S.C. State came to Williams-Brice the following week, the Gamecocks had a lackluster performance, leading 17-3 at the half before running away with a 38-3 win. The game seemed closer than the score.

This year, USC is coming off another big win, against then-No. 4 Mississippi. The scores are even similar: 16-10 over Ole Miss in 2009, 16-12 over Georgia in 2007.

But in recent years, some of USC's games against weaker opponents have been just as close.

Two weeks ago, Florida Atlantic was a missed extra point away from being tied at halftime with USC. (The Gamecocks ended up winning by 22). Last year the Gamecocks beat UAB by 13 and Wofford by 10.

The two recent blowouts occurred in 2006, when USC defeated Middle Tennessee by 45 and Florida Atlantic by 39.

Sometimes, the problem has been an inability to put away an opponent.

Spurrier alluded to that last week, recalling his first game at USC - a win over Central Florida.

"We scored on the first possession. I looked up, there's 13:20, I think, or 13:30 left on the clock," Spurrier said. "The other night (against FAU) I looked up there and same thing. Louisiana-Lafayette (in 2008) we opened up with, we had them 14-0, seven minutes left in the first quarter. Halftime, it was tied. I don't know.

"We're yelling, screaming, coaching our hearts out, but something seems to hold us back and we get in a dogfight with teams you think we're going to clobber. But anyway, we'll keep pushing and we'll keep going, and hopefully someday we can sort of put teams away early and let everybody play a lot late."

So does the score really matter? Are blowouts just for aesthetic purposes? Perhaps.

But one also could argue that a team's inability to hammer an inferior opponent is a sign it has work to do. Two years ago, USC struggled to pull away from Louisiana-Lafayette and S.C. State - and a 6-1 start turned into a 6-6 final record.

Senior receiver Moe Brown said the players have made finishing a priority this season - in regard to individual games and the entire season.

"The past two years, we kinda don't want to talk about the past, but in reality we lost the last three games last year and the last five the season before that," Brown said. "So we definitely want to finish every game and finish the season as well. But finishing every game is gonna take care of finishing the season."

Another senior, defensive tackle Nathan Pepper, admitted this year's 3-1 start "does feel similar" to the 2007 start. But not in every way.

"We're just doing a lot better job of taking care of the ball when we can. When we get our hands on it, we've started making more plays with it," Pepper said. "I just feel like our team is in a different position. It doesn't feel the same, as a team, as that year we started out fast. It just feels like we've got a better hold of what's going on."

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