It's no Fun 'n' Gun, but Spurrier is reconquering SEC
Posted: Sunday November 13, 2005 8:05PM; Updated: Sunday November 13, 2005 8:45PM
Steve Spurrier was 10-0 against South Carolina in his days as Florida's head coach.
More from SI.com's Stewart Mandel
Was there really any other way it was going to end?
In this year's defensive-dominated SEC, it figures the biggest game of the season would be decided in overtime, when the punters become irrelevant and someone has to score. And for the 2005 LSU Tigers to stake their claim to first place in the conference's West Division, it's only fitting they would have to scale another mountain to do it.
A day after leading his new school, South Carolina, to its first win over his old school, Florida, since 1939, Steve Spurrier couldn't help from uttering a couple of his patented jabs.
Asked about watching Saturday night's Auburn-Georgia game -- the Tigers' upset kept alive the Gamecocks' slim hopes of winning the SEC East (and not Florida's) -- Spurrier said, "Since the Gators didn't have to worry about that game last night, we decided we'd root for Auburn instead."
Later, a question about next week's game against Clemson prompted a discussion about old nemesis Florida State, which lost 35-14 to Spurrier's new rival on Saturday. "They've got three losses and they're still in the [ACC title] game?" Spurrier asked. "Guess they picked the right division to be in this year."
New job, same Spurrier. He's still saying whatever comes to mind. More importantly, he's still confounding SEC opponents.
South Carolina's decision to lure the 'Ol Ball Coach out of semi-retirement is paying dividends faster than anyone would have ever imagined. Most figured he'd need a couple of years to attract the type of athletes necessary to run his preferred, pass-oriented offense; what we didn't realize was Spurrier doesn't necessarily need the Fun 'n' Gun to beat people.
In Saturday's 30-22 victory -- the Gamecocks' fifth straight following a 2-3 start -- South Carolina attempted just 17 passes. There were games at Florida where Danny Wuerffel or Rex Grossman threw that many times in the first quarter. Once Spurrier realized counterpart Urban Meyer was determined to play a zone defense to counteract stud Gamecocks receiver Sidney Rice (who still finished with five catches for 112 yards), Spurrier started pounding the ball with freshman tailback Mike Davis (22 carries, 88 yards, two touchdowns). The Gators outgained South Carolina 359 yards to 246, yet never led.
"That's the kind of team we have," said Spurrier. "We don't have a whole bunch of plays, and our defense holds other teams to low numbers scoring-wise."
The history-starved Gamecocks posted three winning seasons and two New Year's bowl berths under Spurrier's predecessor, Lou Holtz, but they never won five conference games in a row, like this year's team. They never beat Florida or Tennessee. Spurrier has conquered both in his first season.
The NFL might not have worked out for Spurrier, but clearly the guy still knows how to win in the SEC. Imagine what he'll do with his own recruits.
Player of the Week
Rafael Little, RB, Kentucky
The nation's leader in all-purpose yards isn't Reggie Bush; it's Kentucky's sophomore running back. And he turned in his biggest game yet in the Wildcats' 48-43 win over Vanderbilt. Little carried 28 times for a season-high 198 yards and three touchdowns, caught five passes for 86 yards and returned two punts for 88 yards, adding up to 372 all-purpose yards on the day. He posted 263 the previous week against Auburn and, on the season, is averaging a nation's-best 193.9 per game. "If he's on the bus," said Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, "we've got a chance."
The Wildcats (3-6), perhaps buoyed by the announcement earlier in the week that head coach Rich Brooks will be back next season, notched their best performance of the season on the road against a Commodores team that still harbored bowl hopes. UK needed every last yard from Little to stave off another furious, Jay Cutler-led Vandy comeback. The senior quarterback had a dazzling day himself, completed 39 of 66 passes for 395 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions as the Commodores cut what was once a 41-10 deficit to five before the final gun.
Team of the Week (besides South Carolina)
Sometimes, the resiliency of college football players can be amazing. You would think the Cowboys, having lost their first five conference games, would have folded up the tent long ago. Yet there they were Saturday against 8-1 Texas Tech, shutting out the Red Raiders' normally prolific offense in the first half (becoming the first team in 32 games to do so) and building a 14-0 lead. Oklahoma State even remained unfazed after Tech scored two touchdowns in a 19-second span -- evoking memories of OSU's collapse against Texas two weeks earlier -- to tie the score 17-17 early in the fourth quarter, or after quarterback Al Pena threw an interception at the Red Raiders' 5-yard line shortly thereafter. Pena rebounded to lead a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown drive that began with nearly seven minutes on the clock and ended on a 1-yard Pena run with 23 seconds left. ''They wanted to win the game more than we did," said Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
Considering Leach's team was still playing for a potential BCS berth while Mike Gundy's Cowboys (4-5) were barely alive for any bowl berth, that's pretty remarkable.