Gamecocks seek yearlong stability

Gamecocks seek yearlong stability

August 4th, 2009 by David Paschall in Sports - College

LOOKING AHEAD

Camp start: Today

Camp objectives: 1. Make sure quarterback Stephen Garcia's head is screwed on straight heading into the dangerous opener. 2. Enhance an offensive line, which has been a big reason the Gamecocks have been stuck in a six-loss mode. 3. Develop capable cornerbacks to replace Captain Munnerlyn, Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson, who combined for 74 career starts.

Season opener: North Carolina State in Raleigh on Sept. 3 (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)

Fun fact: South Carolina's all-time record entering this season is 527-530-44.

One year after losing its last five games of the season, South Carolina endured another wipeout.

The Gamecocks seemed to put their 6-6 collapse of 2007 behind them when they amassed a 7-3 start and a No. 19 national ranking last November. They were coming off impressive thumpings of Tennessee (27-6) and Arkansas (34-21) when the bottom fell out again.

A trip to Florida resulted in a 56-6 humiliation. Clemson and interim coach Dabo Swinney rolled 31-14. And the Outback Bowl yielded an embarrassing 31-10 loss to Iowa.

"I think what happened last year was more of a team-chemistry breakdown," senior receiver Moe Brown said. "There were a lot of situations outside of practice that I'm not going to get into, but I think they really brought down the team. There were some issues that needed to be addressed, and I think it translated to our play on the field.

"We're definitely 180 degrees away from where we were last year, and the team camaraderie is on a whole different level. Since I've been here, I have never seen the togetherness of the team the way it is right now."

Brown, who must do more following the departures of receiver Kenny McKinley and tight end Jared Cook, insisted that quarterback Stephen Garcia is part of the bonding. Garcia enrolled at South Carolina in January 2007 but got suspended from spring practice. He got suspended from spring practice again last year and was a disaster in the bowl game, throwing three interceptions and fumbling once.

"He's definitely a part of this," Brown said. "He's understanding that his talent isn't going to win games for us. He knows he's going to need to have a deep understanding of our offense and what's going on, being able to audible with not looking over to the sideline."

Fifth-year South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has five new assistants and believes that will bring a better attitude among all his players.

Spurrier did his share of ribbing quarterbacks Terry Dean and Doug Johnson when he coached at Florida, and Blake Mitchell gave him headaches earlier in his Columbia stint. No previous Spurrier quarterback, however, can compare to Garcia in being consistently inconsistent.

"Stephen Garcia has gone through his first spring practice, and now he's going through his first summer workouts with the team," Spurrier said. "If we're to have a big year, then he's got to really, really play well. He's got to play a lot better than what happened last year."

The Gamecocks have only five starters back from an offense that also had a dreadful running game. Mike Davis led the team as a senior last season with 573 yards on 163 carries, an average of just 3.5 yards a carry.

Eric Baker and Brian Maddox return, and 5-foot-11, 183-pound freshman Jarvis Giles from Tampa enrolled early, rushed for 114 yards in the spring game and may be the change of pace the Gamecocks sorely have needed.

South Carolina finished 13th nationally last season in total defense and should be solid again with the return of six starters, including linebacker Eric Norwood and end Cliff Matthews. Spurrier said the 6-4, 259-pound Matthews is so talented that he will play some at tight end as well.

The Gamecocks are 28-22 through four seasons under Spurrier, with the 28 wins matching the best four-year stint in program history.

"Coach Spurrier has won everywhere he's been, and we've been averaging seven wins," Brown said. "I definitely thought we'd be more in the nine-game area, but that hasn't been the case."

Said Spurrier: "We thought we'd do a little bit better, but it hasn't worked out. We're starting a new four-year stint with a lot of new caches."