Referring to the aesthetic quality of South Carolina's 16-14 victory at Mississippi State last Thursday, Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz said, "You sure don't get to the beauty pageant with her." Not this year, perhaps, but maybe in 1955. South Carolina is so retro in its game plan that its cheerleaders ought to be wearing poodle skirts. Against the Bulldogs, South Carolina got ahead early, played mistake-free football, bled the clock dry and went home with a victory.
If the Gamecocks defeat Alabama (2-1) this Saturday, they'll have a good chance of going to Tennessee on Oct. 27 with a 7-0 record. It's hard to believe that South Carolina went 0-11 two years ago. "We were the laughingstock of the country," says defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. "My coaching friends would call me and say, 'Strong, y'all set football back 100 years.' We played pretty good defense that year. We had something to build on."
The cornerstones then were cornerback Sheldon Brown and linebacker Kalimba Edwards, who are now seniors. Brown leads a veteran secondary that enables Strong to turn his front seven loose on ballcarriers. Mississippi State tailbacks Dontae Walker and Dicenzo Miller rushed for a total of 81 yards, their lowest combined output since they were held to 75 yards last year by, yes, South Carolina. The Gamecocks converted a fumble recovery and an interception into 10 points and didn't turn the ball over themselves.
The 6'6", 260-pound Edwards, considered a sure first-round NFL draft pick, gives credit for the defense's preparation to Strong. "His knowledge borders on genius," he says. Strong, 41, wants to be a head coach. His reputation in the SEC is such that he's a prime candidate to be the first African-American to fill that role at an SEC school. "If we can keep playing well," Strong says, "something good will happen."