Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- South Carolina Head Football Coach Steve Spurrier said his No. 13 Gamecocks will have to play a strong game against the Volunteers of Tennessee on Saturday, as the Gamecocks strut into Knoxville after a bye week.
Carolina (6-1, 4-1) is schedule to kickoff against Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) at 7:15 Saturday night, the traditional Halloween weekend where orange (and white) meets black (and garnet).
"It's always exciting for our guys to go up to Rocky Top," Spurrier said, noting that the teams' series record is 22-5, favoring the Vols. Carolina has only beaten Tennessee once in Knoxville.
Spurrier said Tennessee sports a "tremendous tradition," referencing the crowd noise and hostile environment Vols fans bring to the table.
"It's always a thrill to just go into that stadium and compete in the game," Spurrier said, "I think about the first time I went in there. It was with Duke in '82, so again, it'll be a special thrill to go in there."
"We voted for captains during the open date, like we said we would, and [redshirt senior defensive tackle] Travian Robinson and [redshirt senior defensive end] Melvin Ingram are our two defensive captains. And on offense, [redshirt senior offensive guard] Terrence Campbell and [junior wide receiver] Alshon Jeffery. And we just let the guys vote for Top 4. So, they were the Top 4. If we had three on defense and one on offense, we woulda done it like that. Just the, you know, Top 4 guys," said the coach.
"They're our captains," Spurrier said, "And I think these guys will do a good job, providing a lot of leadership, direction for the team as we make the stretch run the next three weeks."
Spurrier said Tennessee's inability to close has harmed their record, as they are still searching for their first conference win.
"They've played some good halves with the top teams in the country," Spurrier said. "But they haven't been able to finish those games." Granted, the Volunteers have faced the two toughest teams in the nation, No. 1 LSU (8-0, 5-0) and No. 2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0), and like Florida (4-3, 2-3), they walked away with a pair of losses.
Luckily for South Carolina, the defending SEC Eastern Division champs will not have to face the Bayou Bengals nor the Tide in the regular season.
"We're the type of team that hasn't really clobbered anybody much," Spurrier said, despite a 54-3 lashing on Kentucky, and a stingy 21-3 bout against Vanderbilt.
"We need to score more touchdowns, there's no question about that. Offensively, we need to hopefully get more than two a game as we go through this stretch run." Spurrier said the outcome of the next three games determine whether Carolina will travel to Atlanta to the SEC Championship as they did last season.
"The next three weeks will decide our conference, what we do in the division, SEC. And then, after that, we'll decide what the regular season holds for us. Those last two games," Spurrier said, referring to Palmetto State rivals Citadel and No. 5 Clemson (8-0, 5-0).
"Hopefully, our guys can play one of our best games. It'll be different going without Marcus," said Spurrier, referring to the season-ending injury that ended sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore's 2011 run. But the impressive tailback won't spend his Saturday night in Columbia.
"Marcus is going on the trip. He indicated that he'd like to be with his teammates, be on the sideline, be in the meetings. So, we gon' pack him on the bus and on the airplane, take him with us," Spurrier said with a smile.
"I'm sure he'll be a super teammate on the sidelines, cheering for his teammates out there," Spurrier said, turning his attention to starting quarterback Connor Shaw and freshman starting running back Brandon Wilds.
"Connor's ready for his third start," Spurrier said, "I tell ya, Brandon Wilds is a good running back. I think if he gets the ball enough, and we block a little bit, he certainly can make some yards."
"He's always in that weight room, when I'm in there, about 1:30 or so," Spurrier said about the Blythewood native, "And even when he wasn't a student here, he's come work out on his own. I think he's improved physically a lot between his senior year of high school and now. He's faster and stronger--just hard work."
"Kenny is okay," Spurrier said about junior tailback Kenny Miles. "Kenny practiced with us last night. Brandon Wilds, again, is our starter. He's been healthy all season and has been practicing more. We think he's a little better prepared to play than Kenny right now, because of Kenny's wrist"
Spurrier says not to count out the man in third for the position.
"Josh Hinch is our third tailback, and Josh will probably play a little bit," Spurrier said, "He'll probably get out on the field. Walk-on kid who's actually from Knoxville, TN. He actually went to high school there."
On injured junior tailback Eric Baker, Spurrier said, "Eric ran around last night. He's not quite 100 percent, but maybe by Saturday, he will be. So, he's going to be available for us. So, Eric Baker."
"Offensively, we need to play a lot better," said the Head Ball Coach, and he has confidence in Shaw.
"He's got to think quickly, and he's got to know where all of his receivers are," Spurrier said about the quarterback, "And he's getting better at that. I think he's got a pretty good chance at it, as he continues playing."
Spurrier reminded reporters that turnovers on his offense have not necessarily hurt the Gamecocks terribly.
"Most of our turnovers have been, like, long passes. Not good, but they're not as crucial as a turnover for a touchdown. We've been pretty good in our territory, most of the time," said Spurrier.
"Our offensive line played pretty decent[ly], actually, our last game. Pretty decent[ly] against Mississippi State," Spurrier said. However, the coach noted that the loss of offensive tackle Kyle Nunn may affect pass protection on the offensive line.
Also, the Head Ball Coach mentioned that the offense features a package with redshirt freshman wide receiver Bruce Ellington under center.
"We have a lot confidence putting Bruce in there," Spurrier said of the rising star.
As far as Tennessee's strategy with quarterback, the Vols will start Rock Hill, SC native Justin Worley.
"He's obviously a very talented young man, so we'll have to see how it goes. I don't know a lot about him, to tell you the truth, except that he led Rock Hill to the state championship," Spurrier said.
"They won every close game they were in, and I know his team beat Jadeveon Clowney's [South Pointe] a year ago, in one of those early games," Spurrier said, "This kid's got a winning track record, and they're gonna give him a shot."
The coach said his defense would have to put their hands in Worley's face, apply pressure, and make his job a risky venture.
"Tennessee has not been a real good running team, although I'm sure they want to run some," Spurrier said, noting that the defense would like to force the Vols to throw the ball.
"Our defense has got to continue to play well, maybe a little bit better on third downs," Spurrier said, referring to the expected forecast in Knoxville this weekend.
"You shouldn't get tired when it's 45 degrees," Spurrier said calling the game the coldest of the year. "We're looking forward to this game. Huge game."