USC players meet, discuss task of repeating as SEC East champions
COLUMBIA -- With five games left in the regular season and a second consecutive SEC Eastern division title within their grasp, South Carolina's seniors and team captains decided it was time for a team meeting.
A players-only meeting is usually called to hash out differences or vent frustrations on a struggling team. But Monday's meeting was for other purposes.
Despite the loss of All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury and the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia, the Gamecocks still control their own destiny in the SEC East.
If the Gamecocks beat Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida over the next three weeks, they'll clinch their second straight division title and a spot in the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 3.
And that's what the meeting was about Monday. Just a reminder of what's at stake and what it will take for the Gamecocks to achieve their goals.
Middle linebacker Rodney Paulk, a sixth-year player for the Gamecocks, was a key speaker.
"Obviously, everyone is going to have to step it up because we lost Marcus, but we are going to persevere," Paulk said. "What determines a team is how well they excel through adversity. It's all on our shoulders right now. As far as us going out and playing and executing, it's on us.
"In order for us to do that, we've got to come together as a team. It wasn't about any problems we're having. It was just a meeting for us to come together and talk about what we need to do in order to win the rest of the year. That was the main emphasis."
The task of repeating as SEC East champion was made more difficult when Lattimore went down in the second half against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks will get their first taste of life without No. 21 on Saturday against the Volunteers.
Lattimore, who suffered ligament and cartilage damage to his left knee against the Bulldogs, will travel with the team to Knoxville, Tenn., Spurrier said.
"Marcus indicated he'd like to be with his teammates, be on the sidelines, be in the meetings," Spurrier said. "So we're going to pack him on the bus, on the airplane, and take him with us. He'll be with us in spirit and encouragement. I'm sure he'll be a super teammate on the sideline cheering for his teammates out there."
The Gamecocks spent most of their open date last week retooling their running game and getting true freshman tailback Brandon Wilds ready for his first collegiate start in place of Lattimore. Spurrier has high hopes for the former Blythewood High School star, but he's not sure how the team will react to losing its No. 1 offensive weapon.
"We don't know until we play the game," Spurrier said. "It's all speculation until you play the game. Brandon Wilds is a good running back. If he gets the ball enough and we block a little bit, he certainly can make some yards."
The Gamecocks, who have won a school-record five straight "true" road games, have had almost no success beating the Volunteers in Knoxville over the years. South Carolina is 1-14 at Neyland Stadium with its only win coming in 2005 -- a 16-15 victory on a late field goal by Josh Brown.
"It's a tough place to play," said offensive tackle Rokevious Watkins.