Head Coach Steve Spurrier met with the media Tuesday afternoon to preview Saturday's SEC Championship game against Auburn.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier
It's an honor to be the last two teams playing this week. To win the division and have the opportunity to play Auburn, who won their division, for the SEC Championship is an honor all the teams in our conference hope can happen. We're excited we're in our first SEC Championship game, and our guys are looking forward to it. Auburn has had a magical year and won all their games. They play well when the game is on the line so we have to play very well. We're looking forward to the challenge and to see if we can play our best game of the year. As coaches we hope our guys improve as the season progresses and (hope to) put our best game together at the end of the year. We'll find out Saturday in Atlanta. It should be a heckuva game and we're looking forward to the challenge.
On making it to the SEC Championship game
This is obviously the goal - to win the SEC, not just to go to Atlanta. We have a chance. We have a chance this year. We know that and our guys know that. The important thing is our players set lofty goals this year. They set goals a lot of people maybe would have laughed at at the beginning of the season. We were picked fourth in the (SEC) East. That's why you play football. Alabama was picked first in the nation and ended up fourth in the (SEC) West. They have a heckuva team but lost three games. It can happen. Florida was picked to win our division but had a difficult year. We're excited to be there. We had a good schedule this year. Auburn had a good schedule as well. We're happy to be where we are. We haven't finished the season at all yet. Our guys are looking forward to this game. We have to block better than we did last week. We have to play much better if we'll have a chance to beat Auburn.
On playing the same team twice in a season
I don't think it's a big deal. I know they've done studies on the game, and I've been involved with losing twice and winning twice, and I've also been involved with losing and winning. Obviously if you win the second one, that's the most important one. We watched the tape of our first game with auburn, and I said now that we won the division and they won the division, the loss is not as important. We're still in the same position. We're in about as good of shape as we can expect to be. We're thrilled with the opportunity to go compete for the SEC Championship.
On the gameplan against Auburn
We can't give you the gameplan here at the press conference, but we certainly can't run up the middle for no gain like we did at Auburn (the first time). They did good things and Clemson did god things. We couldn't mash those guys at all. Whatever we do we have to try and find a way to stay on the field. We can't expect our defense to hold them to seven points, although that would be super if we could. It's interesting a lot of our statistics as far as what winners do are similar as far as third down conversions - we are one and two - defensively they're good against the run and not great against the pass, and that's about what we do. We're first against the run and they're second. There's a lot of similarities. I think it will come down to the team that plays the best with the fewest turnovers, no crucial errors and makes the big plays. They have a knack of making the big pay every game. Every game I do believe stands on its own merit. We'll see how this one plays out.
On making the title game
That's what every coach should shoot for, is once you start the season if you're in a conference you have a chance to win some kind of championship. Every team in the SEC you have the division, SEC (overall title) and if you're fortunate enough to get in the national championship, we (in the SEC) have a shot at it. Realistically you're in the division and in the SEC, all the schools that feel like they have a chance, that's what we shoot for. It gives the players something to rally around and talk about in the summer and workouts to shoot for. I like our division play. If you do well in your division, you play for the championship. You don't have to worry about how the sportswriters or coaches vote; you just go play for it. That's what the SEC does with this championship game.
On Stephen Garcia
His left shoulder got banged up in the game the other night. Obviously he went ahead and finished it, but our trainer, Clint Haggard, felt like it was best to rest him. I think he'll rest today. I think tomorrow they'll let him go throw and run and so forth. He should be fine by Saturday night.
On approaching big games
Our team has had a plan and like all coaches we talk about our plan one game at a time, but also there's (thinking about the) next week as we go down the list there. We have not - after some nice wins at Florida and at Clemson - I don't think we've gotten full of ourselves the way we have in the past. I sense that our guys have not overly celebrated. We may have a bit after the Alabama game. We were ready to play at Kentucky, but in the second half we just were bad. Anyone can say Alabama went bad the second half against Auburn. Some games it's hard to figure out what causes you to go bad. Obviously Marcus (Lattimore) got hurt the second half (against Kentucky) and didn't play, and Kentucky played very well and beat us, but fortunately that game didn't hurt as the season progressed. Maybe we learned something from it. The only thing that matters is there are two of us playing for the championship.
On playing in South Carolina's first SEC Championship game
We all know the significance. We all know it hasn't happened before, but that won't help us win the game talking about that. We're trying to talk about how we need to play it to give ourselves the best chance to be successful in the game. Wishing it's going to happen is not going to help us beat these guys. We have to play our game, play our brand of ball, get our best players involved and give our team the best chance to be successful and play the entire night.
On playing Cam Newton for a second time
I don't know that it's an advantage or not. We have to tackle him and maintain our position. He's an excellent cutter with the ball. He can juke a guy. You won't get a hard shot at him at all. He knows how to get down and forward. He's a power runner yet can sidestep you in a heartbeat. They beat Alabama throwing the ball. He's improved his passing since he left Florida. I don't know if the junior college guys worked with him, but his throwing is really good. That's how they beat Alabama, with the three touchdown passes.
On if he thought South Carolina could make it to the SEC Championship game
I didn't think if I would or wouldn't. I thought we would some day here. You have to believe you have a shot at it. It worked out this year. We had some good fortune. Florida and Georgia didn't have their typical years, and Tennessee was down a bit I guess. We have a good team. We've not won a lot of squeakers at all. I think our closest margin of victory was 11 points against Georgia. We've played well in our wins. In our losses we've not had good games. We need to have one of those real good games and sometimes hope your opponent doesn't have a real good game.
On Marcus Lattimore
Marcus (Lattimore) has strong hands obviously and protects himself. Normally they don't get a hard hit on him. Normally he has a way of protecting the ball. He knows how to hold it correctly and get it close to his body. We have to give him running room this week. In the first game (against Auburn) we didn't give him much, and last week wasn't much. It was some tough sledding. Hopefully we can have a better plan maybe and block better for him to create running lanes because we struggled last week.
On benching Stephen Garcia against Auburn earlier this year
It was a major step in him learning how to run with the ball. As all of you know he has the tendency to duck his head and hasn't done it since. Maybe he said (after the game), "If I duck my head and fumble, maybe I'm coming out of the game." That was for his safety and the benefit of our team. That was what we were trying to emphasize to him there was protect the ball and get down. He's done that well since. Maybe coming out the game helped him a bit in that area of carrying the ball. Other than that he's been solid in throwing the ball away and taking care of it. We've had few sacks whereas last year he would go down with it. He's managed to take care of the ball better and avoid sacks.
On Marcus Lattimore
Marcus is a very even-keeled person. He doesn't have a lot of big highs and lows. You don't see him in wild celebrations. He scores, flips the ball to the ref, gets a high five from his teammates and he's ready to keep playing. He's a very mature young man. I think when he came to South Carolina, this was the game he wanted to play in just like Stephon Gilmore, Alshon Jeffery and all these guys. They dreamed we could get to this game some day, and they dreamed we can win it some day. That's what we're trying to do.
Some kids come in and want everyone to look at them. Marcus is a complete team player and so is Alshon. He wants to win some championships before they leave here. They like the big stage and obviously we're going on the biggest stage in college football. I know it is this weekend. Maybe the national championship game some will say is bigger, but for us in the SEC this is as big as it gets. You can still say the national game has to be a tiny bit bigger than this game, but all of us that have been in the SEC some time knows this is about the biggest stage in college football that you have a realistic chance to get to.
On what makes the SEC Championship game a big game
It's a championship game (in front of a) full house and national TV audience. All the SEC schools are finished playing now except us. Maybe all the players on the other teams that love football will watch this game. I know our guys watched it the last several years. The whole country watches pretty much, and when its all over there's a very happy team, fans, school and so forth. This is what we all shot for. We have 12 teams and only one can win it all. That's why people watch. There's going to be a winner and a loser.
On if he's had a freshman contribute as much as Marcus Lattimore has
We had a redshirt freshman the year we won at Duke named Randy Cuthbert who ran for 1,100 yards and really only started the last six games. He sort of helped takeover the run we had a Duke. Eric Rhett was a 1,000 yard rusher I think every year down there at Florida. After that we had two or three backs that played a lot: Fred Taylor, Terry Jackson and Elijah Williams. Marcus is certainly a player who's carried it a lot of time and has been instrumental in so many of our wins. It was neat in last week's game (that) we didn't have much running room with Marcus so we won another way with defense in a special teams fumble by Clemson and of course Alshon had big catches. Hopefully we're more of a good all around team and not dependent on one guy.
On any certainties about the game
We're not certain about anything. I don't know how any team can be certain about what's going to happen. We believe our guys will play well. We believe they enjoy the big games and big stage as we call it. I'm looking forward to playing for the conference championship. That's the only thing I can say about certainty.
On playing with a lead against Auburn
If you play a team with the best offense in the SEC and one of the best in the country - which is Auburn - you don't say, "Well we can run three times and punt the way we did last week the entire second half." We have to keep trying to move the ball and trying to score anytime you play a real good offensive team. Auburn has come from behind four or five games pretty bigtime to win, especially last week. To come back behind 24-0 against Alabama, that's sort of amazing but they did it.