COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier isn’t coaching against his former Florida team this week. He isn’t coaching against one of the Gators’ primary rivals, either.
He is returning to the Sunshine State for the only time this fall when No. 12 South Carolina travels to Central Florida for a noon kickoff on ABC.
It’s impossible to confuse Bright House Networks Stadium for The Swamp, but Spurrier said he’s excited about his return to a state where he spent 20 years as a coach and player.
“Going into Florida, yeah, I get a little extra kick, maybe, going into the state and competing against a team down there, since I did coach a bunch of games there,” Spurrier said. “But again, it’s South Carolina versus Central Florida, and once the ball is kicked off, it’s our team trying to beat their team, and trying to get the best plays in at the right time, and trying to make sure our players are prepared to play. That’s all you can really worry about.”
That alone will be a challenge, Spurrier said.
Central Florida is 3-0 for the first time since 1988. In the program’s first game on network television, the Knights will try to win only their second game against a ranked opponent. The first was also against the nation’s 12th-ranked team, a 37-32 win over Houston on Nov. 14, 2009.
So, no, the Knights are not the Gators. They’re not Florida State or Miami, either. But Spurrier said he expects UCF to be “sky high” with intensity Saturday.
“We don’t look at it, what conference they’re in,” Spurrier said. “We sort of look at, how they play the game. We look forward to competing against them.”
Redshirt freshman center Cody Waldrop was healthy enough to practice Monday night. Returning to his spot atop USC’s depth chart is another matter.
Waldrop, who was groomed in the offseason to replace departing starter T.J. Johnson, missed the past two games with a sprained foot. He’s expected to be healthy enough to play Saturday at UCF, but former backup Clayton Stadnik may prevent a return.
Stadnik was SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the Gamecocks’ win against Vanderbilt. On Tuesday, USC had him listed atop the depth chart with Waldrop.
“Hopefully we’ll have it settled,” Spurrier said. “He practiced a little last night. He’s not 100 percent yet, but we’ll make that decision probably Thursday. They’re both sort of alternating in practice right now, and we’ll go from there.”
Spurrier didn’t have any interesting stories to share, but it was no surprise he’s known UCF coach George O’Leary for a long time.
Both coaches like to golf.
“We met at some of those bowl function golf outings and social events in the offseason,” said Spurrier, who has known O’Leary since the 1980s. “Of course, we coached against him my first game here. He’s been there 10 or 11 years now, something like that. So yeah, I see him, I know him (well enough) to say hello. But like most coaches, I probably talk to one or two other head coaches in the country, and that’s all.”
That first game was a 24-15 win for South Carolina on Sept. 1, 2005. The two coaches haven’t lined up on opposite sidelines since.
Spurrier and O’Leary are well known in the coaching profession. Both have had plenty of success in their careers, but Spurrier made sure not to make Saturday a matchup of coaches.
“I bet if you ask our team who the head coach was, they may not know, and Central Florida may not know I’m the head coach up here,” Spurrier said. “Coaches, we just try to get our players prepared for what they do on offense, defense, special teams, and let’s go see how we can compete against them.”
Spurrier was talking about USC’s special teams Tuesday when he posed a question to the group of reporters sitting before him.
“What has been the big play on special teams through three games?” he wondered. “Can anybody think of one right off the bat?”
Then, it struck him.
“Ah, they fumbled.”
The Gamecocks have recovered two fumbles from opponents on special teams this fall. First came Damiere Byrd’s recovery against North Carolina. The next week, Georgia’s punter botched a snap deep in the Bulldogs’ territory.
They were good plays, momentum changers in critical games. They were also in a lonely group —– positive plays for USC’s maligned and bewildered special teams group.
“That’s our two biggest plays right there — the other team dropped the ball,” Spurrier said. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do there.”