Gamecock Man from Garnet and Black Attack was gracious enough to lend us a peek into the goings-on of the thoughts and feelings of the South Carolina fanbase. You know the usual drill: here are his responses to my 5 questions, and my responses to his questions may be found here.
(By the way, you will learn here that Spurrier sports a real live special teams coach. Just sayin'.)
1. The SEC coaches seem to fall in 3 categories: The Unassailables (Meyer, Saban, Miles, Richt) who are wholly secure in their jobs; The Untouchables (Tuberville, Fulmer, last year's Nutt and Orgeron) whose seats are glowing a pretty whitish red with all the heat, and the Unmentionables (Brooks, Croom) who preside over schools that have stunk for so long, nobody really seems to care anymore. Where do South Carolina fans place Spurrier in that spectrum, and what might cause him to change categories?
I don't think that Spurrier fits in any of those three categories, although our sense of him has characteristics of all three. After 6-6 last year, his job isn't as secure as Meyer's, Saban's, Miles's, or Richt's, but he's also not on the hot seat due to the good will he won in his first two years and the fact that he's Steve Spurrier.
To a certain degree, we're similar to the way you describe Kentucky and MSU in that our expectations are somewhat lower than the elite schools. If Tommy Tuberville was our coach and had had as much success here as he's had at Auburn, we would probably build a statue of him and wouldn't think about firing him for one bad year. However, expectations have gone up here a good bit since the Holtz years. There was a time when last year's 6-6 record wouldn't have been such a disaster. Now, though, we've been on the brink of breaking through for a solid decade, and we want to see it happen.
This means that while Spurrier is in good standing right now, lots of Carolina fans will be upset if he can't soon get us past 6-6 or 7-5 and a crappy bowl. We don't need a national title to be happy, but we believe that we have the resources to go regularly to decent bowls, and we want our coaches to get us there. Spurrier is no different, so his seat will get hotter if he can't show some tangible improvement in the next two years.
2. Spurrier seems to be changing quarterbacks more frequently than he changes driver selection at Augusta. This week, the choice appears to be Garcia. How do you think he'll do against Tennessee? What should we expect out of him, and what would be the difference if anybody else were under center?
If our protection holds up, I expect Garcia to do well. He can make his throws and can gain some yardage on the ground. That said, if the line plays poorly and your defensive front spends a lot of time in the backfield, Garcia may make a freshman mistake or two. If that happens, don't be surprised if Chris Smelley makes an appearance.
Garcia is a better QB than Smelley, although I have more faith in Smelley's abilities than other Gamecocks' fans I know. Garcia has a bigger arm, is a little more accurate, and is definitely more mobile. Smelley does have a more experience, and Garcia's lack of experience seemed really evident against LSU while the Tigers were blitzing us. Garcia didn't make the necessary play changes or know when to throw the ball away, and those mistakes may have cost us the game, although the blame also lies heavily on the poor pass protection. Again, if Spurrier senses that Garcia is lost in certain situations like he seemed against LSU, you may see the Ol' Ball Coach give Smelley another chance to prove himself. I believe that Garcia is a better QB for the most part, but I also believe Smelley is pretty good when he's on his game, so I wouldn't be against Spurrier pulling out the stage hook if things aren't going well for Garcia.
3. What is the mood in Columbia about this game? In the early season, your offense appeared as inept as ours, though it seems to have corrected somewhat. Is the mood confident, or nervous?
The mood is hesitantly confident. Based on the season thus far, our defense is as good if not slightly better than yours and while our offense started slow, lately they've shown a spark while yours is obviously having major troubles. Therefore, there's good reason to believe that we not only can but should win this game.
However, all of our important wins have been close, so we know that it won't be a cakewalk and that the Vols will have chances to win the game. I think the fact that we've only beaten the Vols twice since joining the SEC adds to the anxiety. We think we have a better team this year, but we're so used to having trouble with you guys that it's hard to be truly confident in a victory.
4. Hey, look! UCLA just blocked another Tennessee punt! That's alright; Brandon James was just going to run it back for a score anyhow. [weeps] Before I go hug my knees in a cold, dark corner, tell me about South Carolina's special teams. And please be gentle...
Well, if I'm not mistaken, we've only blocked one kick this year, a FG against Kentucky that was returned over 80 yards for a score. That was a big play in that game, but considering that Kentucky has given up numerous FG blocks this year, I don't think it's indicative of the norm for us.
However, we have been pretty good on kickoff and punt returns, so we could cause trouble for you in that area. Chris Culliver and Captain Munnerlyn return kickoffs, and Munnerlyn does the punts. On kickoffs, Culliver has often been able to get the ball back to around the 40 or midfield, and Munnerlyn took one to Kentucky's redzone, although that again was against the Cats' questionable special teams. Munnerlyn has also had several decent punt returns. Overall, I've been very pleased with the improved blocking that new special teams coach Ray Rychleski has brought to the return units.
On the flip side of things, Ryan Succop has struggled lately on FGs, which could obviously be a factor in what will likely be a close game. And, of course, this probably isn't the best game for him to come into with mental issues, considering how last year's contest ended. We also had a very bad special teams outing against Vanderbilt, when we lost a punt when it bounced off one of a blocker's leg and also had a FG blocked. I don't expect those issues to come up again this weekend, although Succop could be a liability if he continues to struggle.
5. What do you think is the winning formula for South Carolina? If they drop UT to 2-6 on the year, what highlights do you expect to be writing about? Conversely, if they lose, who/what will be the scapegoats?
I think the two related keys to the game for us are to get decent play out of our offensive line and not to turn the ball over. If we can do the first, we should be able to avoid the second as well as move the ball in general. We don't need to score every time we get the ball, as this game obviously won't be a shootout with these two offenses. But we do need to control the field position battle--I feel good about our defense as long as you guys have to travel the length of the field--and score at least a reasonable number of points. We won't be able to do that if we can't run the ball at least a little bit as well as keep Stephen Garcia off his back.
Turnovers will definitely be key--obviously you can't win the field position game if you turn the ball over a lot and you can't score points if you're always aborting promising drives. Turnovers have hurt us the past two years against you guys, especially last year, when we dominated total yardage but blew the game on a couple of key plays, the fumble return by Eric Berry in the first half and the fumble in the middle of the second half that ended a deep drive into your territory. We can't have plays like that again if we're going to win this game.
If we win, I imagine the memorable plays will be a big throw or two from Garcia to Kenny McKinley, a big second-half kick by Succop, or a big defensive stop late in the fourth quarter.