Even after bowl loss, Spurrier hopeful about 2010
Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 4:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 4:12 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Steve Spurrier wasn't crazy about how South Carolina's season ended. But he carries something into next year he had to search hard to find 12 months ago — hope.
Spurrier was disappointed in the Gamecocks lackluster play in a 20-7 loss to Connecticut at the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., last Saturday to finish 7-6.But he has said his team's best days are still ahead, and he is not about to change that now.
"Looking forward to trying to get better because we're certainly are not there yet," Spurrier said last month. "We got a long way to go around here. But hopefully we've got some good young players and some on the way that are going to help us get there."
Count on Spurrier to not be shy about using newcomers, too, just like he did this season.
First-year player Alshon Jeffery became a breakout star at receiver in 2009, redshirt freshman tailback Kenny Miles led the Gamecocks in rushing while one-time problem child sophomore Stephen Garcia had a steady showing in first full season as starter.
None of that might've happened had Spurrier given full weight to a notion that crept in his head this time a year ago following South Carolina's awful, 31-10, loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks played so poorly Spurrier wondered if he'd done all he could and considered spending time on the golf course instead of the coach's office.
That's when the competitor in the 64-year-old Spurrier took control, the coach affirming to himself he was up to the challenge of making South Carolina a Southeastern Conference contender.
Spurrier added five new assistants and a new strength coach in Craig Fitzgerald. They helped develop of one of South Carolina's best incoming classes ever.
Jeffery had been locked into the Southern Cal — that other USC — when he shocked many recruiting analysts by sticking close to his South Carolina home and joining Spurrier.
After a slow start, the 6-foot-4 Jeffery showed what the buzz was about. He finished as the team's leader with 46 receptions, 763 yards and six touchdown catches.
He got plenty of assistance from his young Gamecock teammates.
Miles posted three 100-yard games, including gaining 114 yards in a 34-17 win over rival Clemson in November.
On defense, freshman defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman saw extensive action. Gilmore even took snaps during a significant offensive series against the Tigers, using a wildcat formation that led to a South Carolina touchdown.
Garcia made have made the most significant strides, even though Spurrier at times has been reluctant to praise his quarterback.
Garcia finished the regular season with 2,733 yards passing, second most in the SEC. He had 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. A year ago, Garcia threw eight interceptions in about two-third fewer attempts.
The university shored up Spurrier's status, adding a year to the head ball coach's contract to keep him around through the 2013. Spurrier already settled perhaps the staff's biggest offseason question, hiring Appalachian State assistant Shawn Elliott to coach the offensive line after Eric Wolford left after just one season to head up Youngstown State's football team.
Expect a tough spring from Spurrier. No one's job sounded safe following the loss to UConn. Spurrier apologized to the fans and promised to have a better prepared team in place by next season.
"We'll either play with some different guys next year, or we'll see if these guys can get better, those guys coming back," Spurrier said. "We've got some new guys coming in. We'll have some spirited competition in the spring, see who are our best players."
One of them could be Byrnes star Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina's "Mr. Football" has the Gamecocks among his final choices about where to play college ball and could give the Gamecocks rushing game an instant boost should he sign next month.
If Lattimore does, it could give Spurrier less reason to doubt his team getting where he wants.
"For where we are right now with as many freshmen, sophomores or so forth, and as few seniors that played a bunch, that was a good year," Spurrier said last month. "Call it a good year."
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