COLUMBIA - A faster pace in order to create a sense of urgency, an attempt to better run the ball, four defensive linemen going up against a five-man offensive front in an effort to stimulate a pass rush. Things are changing at South Carolina. After last week's season-opening rout at the hands of Texas A&M, they have to.
What: East Carolina (1-0) at No. 21 South Carolina (0-1)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
Line: South Carolina by 16
"Obviously, we've got to do some things differently around here," head coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday in his weekly media session, "or we're in for a long season."
For a program that won 11 games in each of the past three seasons and finished last year with a best-ever No. 4 national ranking, Thursday's 52-28 loss was more than a wake-up call. Spurrier said his teams have won too many games in recent years despite a less-than-complete effort, something the Gamecocks could get away with behind the indomitable Connor Shaw at quarterback or with No. 1 overall NFL Draft choice Jadeveon Clowney attracting all the attention on the defensive line.
No more. South Carolina, which fell from ninth to 21st in this week's Top 25, is plainly entering a different phase - one in which the sum of the parts must be bigger than the individual pieces, and where that sum must perform better than it did last Thursday night.
"We won a bunch of games where some players don't play all that super, but we win," Spurrier said. "So we stop them on third down, get a few turnovers here and there. And when you win, everybody thinks, 'I can play this way and we're always going to win.' And it doesn't work that way. It didn't work that way. We need to try and dominate out there."
While that might seem a lot to ask in the wake of last week, the Texas A&M game was clearly an attention-getter.
"We've got to be better. I can't even imagine another game like that," said senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt. "Our whole focus is, 'We have to be better.' Not, 'We're going to.' It's like, 'We have to.' We have to show people we can get this job done."
That begins against an East Carolina team which runs a quick-strike, spread offense similar to that of the Aggies, who racked up more yards against the Gamecocks than any opponent in school history. For South Carolina to be able to keep quarterback Shane Carden and the Pirates (1-0) off the field, USC will look for an improved rushing effort from the one which gained 67 yards on 22 carries last week.
Spurrier said tailback Mike Davis - who left the opener in the third quarter with a rib bruise - should be available Saturday, though Brandon Wilds is expected to start. The Head Ball Coach also reiterated that he wants to get redshirt freshman David Williams some carries, something he wasn't able to do last week.
Against East Carolina's three-man defensive front, Wilds clearly wants to see the Gamecocks rush the ball more often than they did against Texas A&M. "I think we had 16 carries as a running back corps," said the junior from Blythewood, who led USC (0-1) with 45 rushing yards Thursday. "That's something we need to work on."
South Carolina was effectively forced to abandon its running game after falling behind early in the opener. Spurrier reminded that Shaw was among the Gamecocks' most effective runners of recent years, and with the less mobile Dylan Thompson now behind center, more of an onus falls on the offensive line to create openings.
"We need to get some holes in there, and the backs need to run well, and so forth," Spurrier said. "And then we have to get the other team off the field. We've got to get them off the field. We know that. It all goes together."
Spurrier said his team wasn't overconfident against the Aggies, who started a sophomore quarterback in the place of departed Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and jumped to ninth in this week's rankings. But, he admitted, the Gamecocks seemed a little lackadaisical in contrast to their opponent, one reason for the ramped-up tempo in practice this week.
And the sting of the opener remains for a program that hadn't suffered that kind of defeat in years, and can now only try to get better for this Saturday.
"It's only one game," Spurrier said. "We've got to stay positive as coaches, players, fans. It's one game. And we'll see if we can find out what we need to do better. Coach a little better, play a little better. Coach a lot better, play a lot better, is what I should say."