College Football: Spurrier brushes over return
COLUMBIA, S.C. ó The last time Steve Spurrier brought South Carolina to The Swamp to face his old school, Florida’s national championship run was nearly derailed by their beloved former coach’s team.
Much was made of Spurrier’s return to Gainesville, Fla., for that game in 2006. It was the first time the ol’ ball coach, who won a Heisman Trophy as a player and a national championship as a coach for the Gators, had faced his alma mater at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The game ended up being better than the subplot. Florida needed a late blocked field goal to win 17-16 on its way to winning the national championship under coach Urban Meyer.
Spurrier brings the Gamecocks back to Florida on Saturday, again with a chance to dash the Gators’ national title hopes. Another Spurrier homecoming isn’t much of a story line this time.
“I don’t think it’ll be a big deal,” Spurrier said about the trip. “It’ll just be the Gamecocks against the Gators.”
But there’s no question Spurrier’s presence on the sideline opposite the Gators has made a series dominated by Florida more intriguing.
In 2005, Spurrier’s first game against Florida, the Gamecocks beat the Gators for the first time since joining the SEC in 1992.
Last season was a more typical Florida-South Carolina game. Tim Tebow accounted for seven touchdowns and 424 total yards and the Gators won 51-31.
These fourth-ranked Gators have already clinched a spot in the SEC title game against No. 1 Alabama, but need to get there without another stumble to have a chance at playing for the national title.
No. 24 South Carolina is a 21-point underdog and has never won at Florida.
“We certainly go down there with the attitude that we really don’t have anything to lose,” Spurrier said. “We’re pretty huge underdogs, which is OK, but we’re going to go down there and pitch it around and line up and see how our defense, our No. 1 defense, ranks against the No. 1 offense.”
South Carolina’s defense, ranked first in the SEC and third in the country, faces its toughest challenge this year. Since losing to Mississippi, the Gators have averaged nearly 49 points a game during a five-game winning streak.
“I would say Florida has a better team this year than they had two years ago that won the national championship,” said Spurrier, who led the Gators to six of their seven SEC titles.
Meyer likes to remind his players of Florida’s football history at the beginning of the year, pointing out the list in the south end zone of the Gators’ SEC and national championships.
“I’m not sure how much our guys are into history. They’re into the present, the future, which is fine. I don’t think it’s a big deal to our guys at all,” Meyer said.
Tebow threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 120 yards and five more scores in last season’s meeting, on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy.
“I had the opportunity to stand on the sideline and watch him just rip us to pieces,” said linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who was injured for last year’s Florida game. “You want to go back out this year and prove a point that we are capable of playing with these guys.”
Spurrier had a chance to meet Florida’s third Heisman Trophy winner when Tebow won the award last year. Spurrier admires Tebow’s talent and toughness.
“He can shake a one-arm tackle and those guys run in there and hit him and they almost bounce backward,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier doesn’t have big plans for his latest trip to Florida. The team will stay at a hotel about 40 miles from Gainesville on Friday night. After the Gamecocks arrive for Saturday’s game, Spurrier said he will chat with athletic director Jeremy Foley and some of the old security guards, trainers and team doctors. Other than that, it will be just another SEC road game.
“When you’re coaching one team, that’s where your mind is. Trying to get some plays ready, trying to get your quarterbacks, offense, team, decisions ó just coaching a ball game,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes when you’re coaching a game, you don’t even know who the opponent is.”
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