South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier considers Joe Paterno a friend and said he admires what the longtime former Penn State coach accomplished during his coaching career. The last couple days had to feel surreal for Spurrier, as he first heard about Paterno’s intention to retire after the season and then about the university board of trustees’ decision to fire him.
Paterno’s departure comes amid an alleged child sexual abuse scandal involving his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, and lots of questions about how much Paterno knew about Sandusky’s behavior and why he didn’t report the information to police.
Spurrier, who was born in 1945, was 5 years old when Paterno arrived at Penn State as an assistant coach. Paterno became the Nittany Lions’ head coach in 1966.
Spurrier was asked about the Penn State scandal Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference coaches media teleconference.
“My thoughts are like everyone else in the country,” he said. “It’s one of the saddest, most tragic series of events we’ve ever seen.”
Of Paterno’s decision to retire, before Wednesday’s firing announcement, Spurrier said, “Coach Joe did what he had to do.”
Shaw passing tests
Spurrier said Tuesday that he expected quarterback Connor Shaw to be ready for Saturday's SEC finale, at home against Florida. Shaw suffered a concussion in Saturday's loss at Arkansas. He didn't participate in Monday's conditioning, as the Gamecocks took the day off from practicing. He did practice Tuesday.
"He passed all the tests that the trainers and doctors administer after concussions," Spurrier said. "(Tuesday) he just threw a bunch of passes. We kept him out of some of our team activities."
Spurrier planned to have Shaw fully participate Wednesday. Spurrier also said strong safety DeVonte Holloman is doubtful right now for the Florida game, because his concussion suffered at Arkansas was more serious than Shaw's.
Special teams a concern
The Gamecocks rank No. 87 nationally in kickoff return coverage (23.16 yards per return allowed), while Florida ranks No. 11 in kickoff returns (25.59). Florida has also blocked four kicks/punts, tied for seventh-most nationally.
Spurrier knows special teams could be the difference in a game in which a team with the No. 9 total defense (USC) is playing a team with the No. 14 total defense (Florida), and neither team's offense has been particularly impressive of late.
"Florida is maybe the best in the country in special teams play," Spurrier said. "We've got to be careful that that doesn't cost us the game. For us to win, as we all know, our defense needs to play well. Offensively, if we can get two or three touchdowns driving the ball, that's about what we're good for. That's just where we are, as most people know."
Scheduling helps Gamecocks
Spurrier is certainly happy to be on the verge of USC milestones. If the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2) beat Florida, they will finish 5-0 against the SEC East and have six SEC wins -- two things they have never accomplished.
But Spurrier knows a big reason why the Gamecocks and Georgia (5-1 SEC) sit atop the East is because neither team had to play Alabama or LSU, the league's two best teams, and maybe the two best in college football. Florida (3-4 SEC) is third in the East and had to play Alabama and LSU in back-to-back weeks. The Gators lost both games.
"That's why we've got such a good record and why Georgia's got such a good record," Spurrier said. "As we all know, scheduling is important. We've benefited, us and Georgia, from that."