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Gamecocks close ranks on criticism

Columbia, SC 10/10/09 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ---South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier yells out instruction in the first quarter during the Gamecocks game against Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday 10, 2009.
Columbia, SC 10/10/09 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ---South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier yells out instruction in the first quarter during the Gamecocks game against Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday 10, 2009.

In addition to the four opponents that make up the closing "Orange Crush" portion of the South Carolina schedule, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier has identified a fifth adversary: outsiders who dwell on the team's season-ending skids the past two seasons.

A day after reminding a student newspaper reporter that USC beat Arkansas and Tennessee last season, Spurrier cut off a media member Tuesday who asked about the Gamecocks' late-season struggles.

"Here we go again, also with six wins and three losses right now," Spurrier said at his weekly news conference. "So we're not as bad off as some of you guys want to attempt to make us feel. We don't feel bad. We've got a bunch of young guys playing, and we're 6-3 and it could be worse."

USC had three first-half turnovers - including two in its first five offensive plays - that Tennessee turned into three touchdowns en route to a 31-13 victory Saturday. The loss dropped the Gamecocks out of the national rankings and prompted many sports-talk radio listeners and message-board posters to question whether it was the start of another late swoon.

After climbing to No. 6 in the polls, USC dropped its last five games in 2007 to finish 6-6 and miss out on a bowl. The Gamecocks lost their final three games last season - to Florida, Clemson and Iowa - by a combined 91 points.

Spurrier appears to have adopted a bunker mentality this year as the Gamecocks hit the homestretch.

"Right now we're just using (the talk as) motivation (of) wanting to finish strong," receiver Tori Gurley said. "The coaches, they've really been harping on us to tell us to stay focused, don't let any outsiders contribute to what's going on. Let us stick together and gel as a team and finish up strong. The rest of it will take care of itself."

Bowl-eligible for the fifth time in his five years at USC, Spurrier said the Gamecocks set realistic goals for a team with just five senior starters.

"We haven't talked about winning the SEC this year. We haven't talked about going to a major bowl, because our team is mostly freshmen and youngsters with a few seniors and older guys," Spurrier said. "There's no pressure on us. Well, there was a little pressure in that Vandy game, because we certainly wanted to get that sixth win right there and not have to try to go through all these games where we're going to be underdogs."

The Gamecocks were six-point underdogs against Tennessee. Arkansas, which has the SEC's top-ranked passing offense and is second in the conference with 35.9 points a game, is a six-point favorite this week.

After the trip to Fayetteville, USC has home games against top-ranked and reigning national champion Florida and surging Clemson, which has won three in a row after a slow start.

"We're not going to have a losing regular season, that's for sure," Spurrier said. "There's a lot of teams out there that still can have one. We'd love to get that seventh win, love to get it this week if we possibly can and go from there."

Spurrier pointed out that USC's three losses came in road conference games against Georgia, then-No. 2 Alabama and Tennessee.

"We haven't lost to Eastern Illinois, somebody like that. We've lost to some pretty good teams on the road," Spurrier said. "So don't try to make us feel bad. We don't. We don't feel bad. We had a lousy game last week, but we don't feel bad."

Spurrier believes the chemistry on this year's team is better than last season, when coaches thought several underclassmen were too concerned about the NFL draft.

While defensive back Akeem Auguste did not condemn his former teammates for following their NFL dreams, the sophomore said there is a different feel in the locker room this year.

"Oh, it's a very different mentality," Auguste said. "I don't know, I guess it's really two different situations."

Time will tell whether the ending is different as well.

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