SEC title dream alive despite crushing loss
COLUMBIA -- As completely lopsided as South Carolina's 41-20 loss to Arkansas was Saturday night, the Gamecocks improbably still woke up Sunday with a good deal of hope about their season.
They're 6-3, ranked 22nd in the country, still hold a piece of the SEC East lead and they'll play for the division title this week at No. 24 Florida.
The Gators and Gamecocks will have a de facto East playoff at 7:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in the Swamp.
"It is sort of neat that we are in this position," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "I told somebody the other day, 'If we could play Florida for the division every year, that would suit me fine.' And hopefully we could win a few of them."
Florida (6-3, 4-3 SEC) and South Carolina have identical records. A three-loss East team will play the Western Division winner in Atlanta on Dec. 4.
"We both have three losses. We've both had our ups and downs this year," Spurrier said. "Florida seems to be peaking at this time, and maybe we're headed the other way."
Gators coach Urban Meyer stepped a little out of character Sunday morning on his TV show, imploring fans to make Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- already one of the league's loudest venues -- into a madhouse this week.
"I've never really done this," Meyer said, "but I want to make this the most intense stadium in the history of Florida football this Saturday."
To that end, Meyer is urging fans to wear blue -- "head to toe," he said -- to the game. It's a "blue-out."
Both teams are coming off a blowout. Florida, back in the AP poll this week, led Vanderbilt 41-0 at the half and cruised to a 55-14 victory in Nashville.
South Carolina, despite being undefeated at home in 2010, fell behind 41-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Arkansas' Knile Davis, who had 110 rushing yards and three touchdowns, said South Carolina quit in the second half.
The trick is, how fast can the Gamecocks bury that one in their brains?
"Every game's a new game," Spurrier said. "We hope we can do a lot better."
Quarterback Stephen Garcia at least flirted with the notion Saturday night that the team's focus was perhaps on Florida instead of Arkansas. Garcia, again and again, talked about the need for an improved week of practice before Florida.
"Everybody knows it didn't mean a whole lot," Garcia said. "But that wasn't our mentality going in. We wanted to have some kind of momentum going to Florida."
And later: "I don't think everybody was looking forward to the Florida game," he said, "but I think that was in everybody's minds. I can't really make excuses; this was a bad game."
Spurrier shot that idea down Sunday.
"I thought we were ready to compete. There's really no excuses," Spurrier said. "If the players said our minds were on (Florida), I think they're wrong. Our minds were on Arkansas and trying to get to seven wins. We haven't been 7-2 since I've been here. We're still not."
Asked specifically about pass defense, Garcia's play and the state of the offense, Spurrier clammed up both Saturday and Sunday.
"I don't have the answer for that. You guys watch the games," he said. "You guys watch the blocking. You guys watch the passing. You guys can write whatever you see, I guess. But we haven't executed very well, put it that way."
Florida had lost three consecutive games until getting past Georgia in overtime and then punishing Vanderbilt.
The Gators are currently using three quarterbacks -- John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed -- to give defenses different looks. And because Brantley, a pocket passer in a spread offense, never really clicked.
"Florida doesn't have the passing game they normally have, I guess you could say," Spurrier said. "As well as the defense plays, I think coach Meyer has sort of said, 'Hey, we don't need to be throwing 40 times a game.'"
Spurrier also said the Gators' defense, second in the SEC, is "sort of scary" to watch on film. Florida has a league-best 17 interceptions. It scored on a fumble recovery by a defensive lineman Saturday.
The Gators also blocked two Vandy punts.
"I realize we'll be huge underdogs, with the way they've played lately and how we've played lately," Spurrier said.
South Carolina opened as a seven-point underdog for the game, in fact. The Gamecocks, though, still have a pulse in the SEC East race - despite being handled by Arkansas.
"We've just got to play a lot better this weekend," Garcia said. "This week is the most important game in South Carolina history, as far as our team is concerned."
Ga. lineman commits
Offensive lineman Kyle Harris (6-3, 283) of Lindale, Ga., committed to USC on Saturday night while on an unofficial visit. He is a former Georgia Tech commitment. He also had offers from Clemson, Illinois, Louisville, Auburn, Purdue, Syracuse and Tennessee. Harris is USCís sixth offensive line commitment and likely the last it will take at that position. He is USCís 23rd