COLUMBIA -- "Meaningless" is a relative word when it comes to South Carolina's game this week against Arkansas.
Does it have any bearing on the Gamecocks' chase for the SEC's East Division title? Probably not. But does that make it purely meaningless? Absolutely not.
"Every game counts," said senior tight end Pat DiMarco, additionally referring to the Nov. 20 Troy and Nov. 27 Clemson games. "Even the games that don't matter in the SEC race, we want to go out there and win, just for ourselves.
"We want to do stuff that's never been done here before at the University of South Carolina. Winning 10, 11 games, that's stuff that's huge here. That would definitely build the program up. So, every game's important."
Win or lose this week, the 18th-ranked Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) will in all likelihood play Florida (5-3, 3-3) for the East title next week in Gainesville, Fla. The only thing that could alter that is if Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4) upsets the Gators this week in Nashville, Tenn.
Earlier in the week, even USC coach Steve Spurrier scoffed at the notion of that.
Besides, Spurrier and the Gamecocks reason, No. 17 Arkansas is first up.
At one point during his news conference, Spurrier was asked by a TV reporter what he would tell fans who say the Arkansas game doesn't mean anything.
"You tell them whatever you want to," Spurrier said. "I'm worried about coaching against Arkansas."
The Razorbacks (6-2, 3-2), with losses to only Alabama and Auburn this season, present plenty of problems. The Hogs scored 23 unanswered points to blister USC 33-16 a year ago in Fayetteville, Ark.
And, really, Arkansas is the final stumbling block to South Carolina's first undefeated home season since 1987. (The aforementioned non-conference game against Troy also remains.)
"Our guys, believe it or not, set a goal of winning all of the home games," Spurrier said. "When the captains said that to me, I said, 'You know we play Alabama here, don't you?'
"(They said), 'Coach, we think we can beat them.' I said, 'OK, we'll put that goal on our list to try and achieve.' We'll see if we can do it."
As it will all week, the topic of pass defense again surfaced Tuesday.
Spurrier said cornerbacks and free safeties coach Lorenzo Ward has been "promoted" to "pass defense coordinator" -- also known as a secondary coach. The Gamecocks are currently 12th in the SEC, allowing 259.9 passing yards a game.
"We gave him a little tentative pass defense coordinator title," Spurrier said. "Right now, his group is at the bottom of the conference. We are hoping it's going to get better. He got it while they were on the bottom.
"It's sort of like President Obama: 'Give me a little time, you know, to get this thing sorted out.' So, we are going to give him a little time to get it sorted out."
In reality, Ward already had those duties. Semantics, or political rhetoric, won't alter the defense's course, anyhow.
"We need to show we can stop the pass," linebacker Tony Straughter said.
That's putting it succinctly. South Carolina has allowed 300-yard passing days for three of the past four teams it has faced. The fourth, Vanderbilt, is hardly a downfield threat.
Zone coverage failed in the loss at Kentucky. Man coverage failed in the win against Tennessee.
Even without injured cornerback Chris Culliver, the Gamecocks are trying to tighten things up in the defensive backfield. The players have been out of position -- for myriad reasons -- when they've had breakdowns, both in man and zone coverages.
South Carolina is also frustrated by the fact that its defensive backs have just three interceptions this season -- none since Sept. 18. All three came out of conference, against Furman (two) and Southern Miss.
The four total interceptions for the Gamecocks rank 103rd in the country.
"I thought we'd have way more interceptions than what we do," safety Akeem Auguste said. "It's just little things that we can fix. We know we can. We're just beating ourselves, really. We're going to get back to what we know best and make some plays.
"We've got to keep going. The season isn't over."
No, in fact it's an incredibly important month for the Gamecocks. It will decide whether they play in Atlanta for the first time.
But that's a discussion for another week -- next week.
"We all know what that's about," Spurrier said, "and we'll wait until next week to talk about it."
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