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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two-A-Days: South Carolina Gamecocks

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

To read the previous entries in the series, click HERE.

The 11th entry in the series is the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Head coach: Steve Spurrier (5th season)
2008 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
Total Offense: 316.54 ypg (7th SEC, 97th overall)
Total Defense: 291.92 ypg (4th SEC, 13th overall)
On the docket: The Gamecocks open on the road on Thursday, Sept. 3 against N.C. State. They then get a 10-day break before heading to Athens for their SEC opener against Georgia on Sept. 12.

Another relatively promising season went up in flames a year ago when South Carolina dropped its final three games of the year -- including blowout losses to rivals Florida and Clemson -- and finished with seven wins or fewer for the third time in Steve Spurrier's four seasons in Columbia. When Spurrier arrived, fans expected the same magic he was able to create at Florida, but now most observers are simply wondering how much longer he'll stick around. So, will this be Spurrier's best season at South Carolina, or might it be his last? I talked to Seth Emerson of The State to get some answers.

David Hale: There were some major shake-ups on Steve Spurrier's staff this offseason. How has the team reacted to the replacements, and has Spurrier's attitude changed at all this spring? Any signs that it might be his last?

Seth Emerson:
The most immediate impression is that these are younger, perhaps more hungry assistants - in the sense that all of them either moved up the ladder by coming to South Carolina, or got a promotion. So the coaches themselves are quite happy to be here, and seem to be bringing some fresh ideas to the table. As for Spurrier, there's not a hugely detectable difference in him. Maybe not as critical, which he said he would work on, but it's spring practice, how much is there really to be critical about? And as for his future, who knows. He's never going to come out and say it.

DH: Given all the success Spurrier had at Florida, it seems hard to believe he has never found a quarterback he could settle on at South Carolina. Might this finally be the year, and might Stephen Garcia be the guy? How has Garcia's first spring of work with the Gamecocks gone?

Garcia might benefit from finally being "the guy." No questions about his starting spot, at least not yet. Plus, this is his first spring practice. I think most people are looking at the situation warily, merely hoping that Garcia will lock things down and play well, but not necessarily knowing that he is the answer.

DH: While South Carolina may finally be able to settle on a quarterback (maybe), the offense will have to replace several other playmakers, including Kenny McKinley, Jared Cook and Mike Davis. Has anyone stepped up this spring who might emerge as a true offensive threat?

Lots of options, but no definite go-to guy yet. Moe Brown, who will be a senior, has had a good spring, but he has yet to develop consistency - had a huge game last year against Georgia, then was quiet the rest of the way. Jason Barnes, who will be a redshirt sophomore, is a tall receiver in the Sidney Rice mold, but he has to do it on Saturdays. Weslye Saunders has played tight end the last two years behind Jared Cook, and he'll get a shot. The running backs are wide open, with junior Brian Maddox the leader, but true freshman Jarvis Giles giving him a push.

DH: Captain Munnerlyn, Jasper Brinkley, Emanuel Cook, Carlos Thomas, Stoney Woodson... a lot of talent is gone from last year's defense. Have any of the younger players impressed enough in the spring to give some hope that there won't be a big drop off on the defensive side of the ball?

They're in a lot better shape at safety than cornerback. Chris Culliver has been hurt most of the spring, but he should be healthy by the fall, and he could have a breakout season. Darian Stewart, who played the hybrid linebacker-safety spot last year, is also back. The cornerback position is in a lot of flux, and could be the weak point of the defense.

DH: After seeing the team this spring, what jumped out at you in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions South Carolina still needs to answer before the season begins?

I like where they are at running back, and think Maddox, Giles and the other guys give them an approach they lacked last year. If the new offensive line coach, Eric Wolford, has a positive impact, the running game should be much better. As for the passing game, well, it all depends on what's going on inside Garcia's head. We'll see. Defensively there could be a drop-off because of the departures, but Eric Norwood is still around, and the defensive line looks much improved.

* Seth Emerson covers a variety of South Carolina sports for The State. You can read his Gamecocks coverage HERE or check out his blog HERE.

NEXT UP: The Arkansas Razorbacks with Northwest Arkansas Morning News beat writer Alex Abrams.

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