COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier knows the only thing South Carolina lost last week was a football game. He hopes his players understand that, too.
Spurrier said the ninth-ranked Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) can still achieve all their goals, chief among them taking control of the SEC’s Eastern Division this week when they play at No. 3 Florida (6-0, 5-0).
Saturday’s winner doesn’t clinch a spot in the conference title game, but will have a stranglehold on the top with only a couple of games remaining.
Spurrier was a disappointed as anyone at South Carolina’s 23-21 loss to LSU last week. Still, Spurrier thinks the team can rebound this week and take a big step toward winning its second SEC East championship in three seasons.
“If we’re going to win our division, which we hope to do, this is a crucial game,” Spurrier said. “We all know that. I don’t know how else to say it, except we’ll go down there and be ready to give it our best shot and hopefully play with a little bit more energy from a lot of our guys than the last time we played.”
It’s the third straight top-10 SEC showdown for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks moved up to No. 3 in the polls when they dominated then fifth-ranked Georgia 35-7 on Oct. 6 before falling at then-No. 9 LSU last Saturday night. South Carolina holds a 12-game win streak against SEC East opponents, a run that includes a 36-14 victory at The Swamp two years ago to clinch the Gamecocks’ lone trip to the SEC championship.
Safety DeVonte Holloman said such a stretch against three top-10 opponents can be grueling. But “that’s what we came to the SEC to do,” he said. “Got a lot of good teams in the SEC so you’ve got to be ready to play your best and if you don’t do that, you can lose.”
Players learn quickly if you lose, you’ve got to come in the next week ready to look forward, Holloman said, or you risk more trouble.
“You’ve got to put it behind you,” Holloman said.
South Carolina’s defense hadn’t given up more than 120 yards rushing to an opponent in its first six games, yet was gashed by LSU for 258 yards on the ground.
Holloman said the problem was too many missed tackles, something he believes will be corrected this week.
South Carolina’s defense also could be without one its starters in defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who Spurrier said was recovering from a shoulder injury and highly doubtful to go against the Gators.
The Gamecocks better tighten up their run defense – and fast. Florida is second in the SEC in rushing this year averaging more than 233 yards a game.
South Carolina also couldn’t rely on its usually reliable running attack.
Star rusher Marcus Lattimore was held to 35 yards on 13 carries and Spurrier said Wednesday night the junior star might not start against Florida because of a lingering hip injury.
Lattimore will be missed if he can’t go. He rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns at The Swamp two years ago, a game that clinched the SEC East for South Carolina.
Spurrier hopes quarterback Connor Shaw can look downfield a bit more this week and open up some space for the running backs.
“Yeah, we need to mix it up a little bit better, somehow or another,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier knows how to win championships, his statue outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium a tribute to his 1966 Heisman Trophy, his 1996 national championship and six SEC titles – all won at his alma mater, Florida.
“He’s definitely a Gator great. I drive by his statue every day,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “But it’s not really anything that’s going to bother us. All of our players here didn’t play for him or weren’t here when he was around.”
If South Carolina beats Florida, it has just two SEC games left against Tennessee and Arkansas – and both are at home where the Gamecocks have won eight in a row.
Spurrier knows full well the SEC champion – the league has won the past six national titles – will likely have a say in this year’s BCS chase. First, things first, though, and that’s making sure the Gamecocks won’t look backwards.
“We’re moving on from last week,” Gamecocks receiver Bruce Ellington said. “That game was last week. Even though we lost, we just have to focus on this week and focus on the task at hand. We have to go to Florida and try to get a win.”