COLUMBIA, S.C. — Steve Spurrier’s done with the outbursts after two straight losses, choosing to concentrate on the work South Carolina’s put in to turn around a struggling season.
The Gamecocks (3-3) return to the field Saturday from a week off when they face Football Championship Subdivision opponent Furman (2-4).
Spurrier said he won’t bring out the loud, fiery words to get South Carolina out of its funk. The 10th-year coach has seen plenty of evidence through the last 10 days that gives him hope for a strong second half.
“I think our guys actually work pretty hard in the weight room yesterday and I think they want to finish with a good season,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “I really do. We do have a lot of senior players, fourth-year players and so forth, so hopefully senior leadership will kick in and we’ll start playing better.”
That hasn’t always been the case this year with the team picked to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division this summer.
Spurrier was “embarrassed” by the Gamecocks 52-28 loss to Texas A&M that ended the Gamecocks’ longest-in-the-country 18-game home win streak to start the season.
He was mortified again a few weeks later, this time in a win over Vanderbilt when his team gave up two kickoff return touchdowns. But that was back when the Gamecocks still have realistic chances at winning the East.
Those effectively ended with two straight fourth-quarter collapses, the first when South Carolina gave up 14 points in the final seven minutes to lose to Missouri 21-20 before Kentucky scored 21 points in the last 12 minutes a week later for a 45-38 victory.
The Gamecocks held a players-only meeting, something Spurrier thought a good move by senior leaders to make sure the team remained together through a difficult stretch.
“It’s hard looking back and reflecting,” said senior linebacker Sharrod Golightly. “But I’m a forward thinker and I try and get the team on the same note. I’m going to try and take advantage of my last six games and try to make the best out of it.”
That starts this weekend against Furman, which shared the Southern Conference championship last season and advanced to the NCAA FCS playoffs.
The Paladins have played the Gamecocks just once in the past 34 years, South Carolina winning 38-19 in 2010. Furman also had a week off since its last game, a 37-31 overtime loss to Coastal Carolina.
“We gained some confidence there,” Furman coach Bruce Fowler said. “We got some guys that are playing that are young guys that are gaining more confidence.”
Spurrier hopes the same is true for his team. He said he’d like to find an opportunity for one of reserve quarterbacks, either Connor Mitch or Perry Orth, to take a few snaps behind senior starter Dylan Thompson. “We may be the only team in America that hasn’t played a backup quarterback through the first six games,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier acknowledged the projections for the Gamecocks, who’ve gone 33-6 the past three seasons and finished a program-best No. 4 in last year’s final rankings, were too high this season.
“We’re probably not as talented as we thought,” Spurrier said a day after the Kentucky loss.
More than anything, Spurrier simply wants crisper play from the Gamecocks. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will move from sidelines to the pressbox to get a better handle on what opposing offenses are doing to beat South Carolina defenders.
True freshman Chris Lammons may start at cornerback over Rico McWilliams. Another freshman, D.J. Smith, will miss the first half because of his targeting penalty in the Kentucky loss before returning to his starting safety spot.
Receiver Pharoh Cooper said the players are ready to get back to work and back to winning. “We’ve got to bounce back with confidence and show we can win games and we do have a talented team,” he said. “Everybody else thinks that.”