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Back where he belongs (cont.)

Posted: Thursday April 14, 2005 12:50PM; Updated: Friday April 15, 2005 4:15PM
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Indeed, it's the Gamecocks' pass protection -- or lack thereof -- which has caused Spurrier the most headaches this spring. Though there are three returning starters, including former freshman All-America tackle Na'Shan Goddard, the entire interior line is new to its positions (including two converted defensive linemen), and all of them -- Goddard and fellow veteran tackle Jabari Levey -- needed to be retrained in the art of pass-blocking.

"[Spurrier] lets us know, if you do your job, I'm going to do my job and get the receivers open," said Goddard. "We see that on film. The times we'd mess up, a receiver would be wide open down the field."

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The receivers actually have been Spurrier's most pleasant find since arriving in Columbia. Even without Williamson, a projected first-round draft pick next weekend, the Gamecocks have a bevy of fast, athletic former blue-chip recruits at the position -- juniors Noah Whiteside and Newton (who played quarterback last season), redshirt freshman Sidney Rice -- who didn't get the chance to showcase their talent in Holtz's system. The fall will bring freshmen O.J. Murdock and Carlos Thomas, the gems of Spurrier's first recruiting class last winter.

"These players here, they can run and catch," said Spurrier. "They came to South Carolina to play wide receiver; they've just got to be developed."

While the backfield suffered a significant blow last month with the dismissal of leading rusher Demetris Summers after a second failed drug test, the Gamecocks have two experienced runners in Boyd and Daccus Turman. Both will get their share of work. Contrary to popular perception, Spurrier's offense does involve running plays, particularly to set up the play action. "It's basically a balanced offense," said Boyd. "It's just that the passing gets shown more because he likes going deep and he likes putting up the numbers."

And that brings us to the biggest question on the minds of fans throughout the SEC, if not the country: Will Spurrier be able to put up such numbers at South Carolina? In 15 years at Duke and Florida, his teams led their conference in scoring offense nine times, including a four-year stretch in Gainesville (1993-96) where the Gators became the first team in history to score at least 500 points for four consecutive seasons. The old, notoriously cocky Spurrier took considerable pride in hanging 50 on a helpless opponent. He probably doesn't have the firepower yet, but don't let the new, gentler persona fool you.

"You can tell how he is on the practice field," said the tackle Goddard. "Some plays, the defense will get us, and he'll tell them, 'Oh, I'll get you next time.' He's out there talking trash for us. And then we go out there and complete a 30- or 40-yard bomb."

Spurrier is back in the SEC all right, and though he talks a good game about running the ball and having a balanced attack, there's no question what he loves most: He wants to throw the ball downfield like he did with the Gators, particularly after the sour experience with the Redskins. But there's no telling how long he'll remain patient if the passing game stalls like it has for much of the spring.

"My biggest concern," he said, "is the pass protection up front. If we have time to throw, I think we can throw effectively. If we don't, we won't be very good."