SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
10/25/2006 06:45:00 PM
Spurrier vs. Fulmer: Round XII
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks face a difficult stretch of games to close the season.
Paul Abell/US PRESSWIRE
The beauty of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is that he's capable of zinging one of his rivals even when he's trying to be modest.
In downplaying the rivalry between himself and Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer during his days at Florida, Spurrier said earlier this week, "There never was a lot of back and forth, there really wasn't. We did all those Gator Clubs and they wanted to hear something funny in the summertime. And if they told jokes about us, it didn't bother me, I can assure you." But then he added: "Of course, the winners are the only ones who can tell the jokes, so maybe they weren't telling too many up there."
We laugh only because it's true. Suffice to say, the Ol' Ball Coach has pretty much owned Fulmer over the years. Spurrier's 16-15 win in Knoxville last season -- his first with the Gamecocks -- raised his all-time record against the Tennessee coach to 8-3, an impressive accomplishment when you consider that Fulmer owns an .814 winning percentage against everyone else he's faced. (Fulmer leads Spurrier in overall career winning percentage, .779 to .758).
If Spurrier were to earn another victory over Fulmer on Saturday, however, it would likely rank as his most impressive yet. The Gators and Vols were fairly evenly matched most years when Spurrier was in Gainesville, and while Spurrier's first South Carolina team last season was far from dominant, going 7-5, Fulmer's team was in the midst of a nightmarish 5-6 campaign. A year later, revitalized Tennessee will head into Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night sporting a 6-1 record and No. 8 AP ranking. South Carolina is 5-2 but unranked, its three SEC wins so far coming against 2-6 Mississippi State, 3-4 Kentucky and 3-5 Vanderbilt.
But South Carolina also came within five yards of taking another top-10 team, Auburn, to overtime, in its last prime-time home game, so it would be unwise to dismiss the Gamecocks' upset chances. Spurrier's team has won four of its past five using much the same formula as last year's overachieving team: a modest yet productive offense and a stifling pass defense. Since taking over the starting quarterback job in Week 3, senior Syvelle Newton has completed 63.2 percent of his passes while running for 241 yards. Running back Cory Boyd has posted consecutive 113-yard rushing performances. And last week, the defense held Vanderbilt to 120 passing yards and just one third-down conversion in a 31-13 win.
Newton's emergence has been particularly surprising considering Spurrier has almost no history with running-style quarterbacks. "I always wanted to have one that could run out of there occasionally," said Spurrier. "We run Syvelle a little more than occasionally because that is what he does best. ... We have only punted eight times in the last five games -- that is because of Syvelle. Our third downs are like 50 percent since he has been in there. We're calling the same plays; we didn't all of a sudden find a bunch that worked."
The Gamecocks will need to play some astounding defense if it hopes to win Saturday night, because the Vols, with QB Erik Ainge and WRs Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain, certainly pack more fire power than their recent opponents. But South Carolina has a pretty valuable weapon of its own in sophomore WR Sidney Rice, who had eight catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns in last year's Tennessee game. The Vols' secondary has stood its ground since loing top cover corner Inky Johnson to injury, but if anyone could exploit them, it's Rice.
Gauging Spurrier's progress so far at South Carolina has been difficult seeing as the Gamecocks play such a drastically different style than his vintage Gator teams. Lacking a quarterback or the receiving corps to uncork his preferred Fun 'n' Gun offense, Spurrier has leaned heavily on ball control and defense -- with the occasional deep ball to Rice mixed in -- and the result has been a commendable 12-7 record with wins last season over both Tennessee and Florida.
However, both those squads, as well as arch-rival Clemson, boast top-10 outfits this season, and South Carolina will face all three -- as well as No. 13 Arkansas -- between now and the end of the season. "Who knows what's going to happen?" said Spurrier. "I really believe we have a better team than last year. Now, what needs to happen, the other guy doesn't need to play well." If the Gamecocks can beat one or two of those foes, we'll know for certain Spurrier has them on the right track.
Spurrier is by far the most quotable coach in the SEC (maybe in history) and people love his frat-boy persona...but Fulmer and the Vols have too much this year and will be looking to avenge last year's loss...Vols blow their doors off 35-10.
Last year the Gamecocks beat BOTH Tenn. AND Florida, plus came within 2 points of beating Georgia....all with NO Talent. That just shows what a great coach Spurier is. Just think what things will be like in Columbia in a couple of years after he gets some players with Talent at USC.
Visor Boy owns some good golf clubs, but Tennessee- don't think so. The 04 win in K'ville would not have been a "W" if there had been film reviews then. As for this season, Vol fans love to see those flying visors and we hope to see droves of them Saturday - nay coveys of them!!
As much as I hate him, Spurrier can do anything with almost any team. Last year, well, Vol fans don't like to talk about last year. The Vols had all the talent in the world last year, just mediocre coaching staff. Vols win this one 21-7
Spurrier is always at his best when he is supposed to lose big. The hostile crowd at Williams Brice will keep the Cocks in the game thru the 1st half. Tenn. should win but NEVER count out Spurrier!!! Has been fun to watch South Carolina since Spurrier took over.
if south carolina had scored on their final drive against auburn, auburn wouldn't necessarily been "taken". it would have tied the game, and gone into overtime, unless spurrier opted to go for a 2-point conversion, and there's no guarantee has would have succeeded there.