Coach says offensive line got 'sort of knocked backwards' in bowl loss
Steve Spurrier has four years remaining on his contract at South Carolina and will receive a $1 million longevity bonus if he remains at USC through the 2011 season.
But Spurrier has been in coaching long enough to know that with a few more performances like the Gamecocks' dismal 20-7 loss to Connecticut in Saturday's Papajohns.com Bowl, the decision on when he leaves USC might be made for him.
"If we can't get our players to play any better than last Saturday, then we as coaches better find us some new players or pretty soon they're going to find some new coaches around here," Spurrier said Sunday. "We've got a lot of good players, but we need help."
Spurrier, who received a one-year extension with no raise after beating Clemson, is 35-28 at USC and has had the Gamecocks bowl-eligible in each of his five seasons. But the Gamecocks are 1-3 in bowl games under Spurrier, and have not finished with a winning SEC record since his first season in 2005.
The Gamecocks were 4-point favorites against UConn, which finished in a tie for fourth in the Big East and was last in the conference in total defense.
But USC did next to nothing offensively against the Huskies, failing to produce a first down during its first five possessions and finishing with 205 yards, the fourth fewest in a bowl game in school history.
It was the second consecutive year the Gamecocks started slowly in a bowl loss and finished with a 7-6 record. USC had turnovers on its first four offensive series in a 31-10 loss to Iowa in the 2009 Outback Bowl.
"It was about as lousy as last year," Spurrier said. "We've got to somehow learn how to practice a month before the game better. So we've got some work to do around here. I still think we've got a chance."
The Gamecocks return eight starters on offense and defense, including quarterback Stephen Garcia, who finished second in the SEC in passing in his first full season as the starter.
Garcia struggled with his accuracy against the Huskies (16-of-38 passing for 129 yards and an interception), although nine of those incompletions were passes that his receivers dropped, Spurrier said.
Spurrier has dismissed the notion that the cold weather contributed to the drops or the Gamecocks' ineffectiveness.
"I don't know that we were flat. I just think we got the crap beat out of us a little bit up front," he said. "I don't have any excuses. We had good practices and we thought we had a good game plan."
Spurrier said the problems started up front, where the Gamecocks' offensive line created little push and had problems with the Huskies' zone blitzes.
"We couldn't hardly get a stalemate at times," Spurrier said. "We were getting sort of knocked backwards."
The Gamecocks lost several underclassmen to the NFL draft last year, and Spurrier said there is a chance a couple could leave this year.
"We're not begging any of them (to stay), I can assure you that," Spurrier said. "Well, we'll beg (defensive end) Cliff Matthews."
Spurrier believes Matthews, who tied Eric Norwood for the team lead with seven sacks, will be back. He said tight end Weslye Saunders and safety Chris Culliver likely would wait to get their evaluation from the NFL's underclassmen advisory committee before making their decisions.
"If they haven't already made one," said Spurrier, noting Captain Munnerlyn's announcement minutes after the Outback Bowl last year that he planned to enter the draft.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
If there is a positive to the Papajohns.com Bowl, Spurrier said, it might help convince prospects that they would have a good chance for early playing time at USC.
"When you have a lousy game like that and they watch it, they can say, 'Man, I'm going to get ready to play for the Gamecocks next year.'"