A week into preseason practice, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier called his team "a bunch of overrated dudes."
After South Carolina's 56-37 win over East Carolina in the season opener, the Gamecocks were upgraded to "a bunch of average dudes."
But after surviving Georgia, 45-42, and Navy, 24-21, in back-to-back weeks, an exasperated Spurrier called his team a "struggling bunch of dudes" earlier in the week.
Despite the Gamecocks' 3-0 record and their rather lofty national ranking -- No. 12 in The Associated Press poll -- Spurrier has yet to see his team fulfill its true potential and live up to the preseason hype as one of the favorites to win the SEC East. Taking on Vanderbilt this Saturday, a team they've traditionally struggled against, Spurrier is hopeful that he'll finally see the finished product on the field.
"We want to see if we can throw the ball around better, see if we can stop people a little more, and see if we can become the team we were advertised to be in the preseason," Spurrier said at his weekly press conference. "We haven't quite done it yet, but we have hopes and beliefs that we can start playing better football."
Earlier in his South Carolina coaching tenure, Spurrier would simply have shrugged off the inconsistencies of his team as the talent gap that naturally existed between the Gamecocks and the rest of the elite teams in the SEC.
But the talent gap has diminished enough that USC has some of the best individual players in the SEC in running back Marcus Lattimore, receiver Alshon Jeffery and defensive end Devin Taylor.
And that makes the Gamecocks' uneven start so puzzling for Spurrier.
"We've played similarly every game," Spurrier said. "We haven't played very well. That's all you can say. Hopefully we start playing better. I don't know. Until you do, that's all hope. We keep reading about all these NFL guys we've got. We keep thinking it's all going to come together. It hasn't quite yet, but we're 3-0, so that's a good sign."
Both sides of the ball have shown flashes of brilliance.
Lattimore leads the nation in rushing with 534 yards. Jeffery made a spectacular catch for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone against Georgia.
Spur linebacker Antonio Allen has two defensive TDs and leads the team in 32 tackles. Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram ran 68 yards on a fake punt for a TD.
But for every Lattimore, Jeffery and Ingram, there's quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has yet to find his rhythm and has thrown more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2).
"I've talked enough about Stephen," Spurrier said. "I am going to keep coaching him, just like we're coaching everybody around here. We're going to be tough on them during the week. We're going to try to be encouraging all through the games and try to coach the heck out of him during the week and see if we can't do a better job of coaching all our players; not just him, but all of our players."
With three straight home games, Spurrier realizes that this is the time to get the issues corrected.
"We're trying to get better," Spurrier said. "We think we can turn it around and be the defense, be the offense, that we thought we could be. We need to do better to get our guys to play like champions play. We don't do it. We haven't yet. We have hopes we can do it, maybe this week."
With 20 of their 22 starters either juniors or seniors, Spurrier reluctantly simplified the Gamecocks playbook on both sides of the ball this week. With so many veteran players, the Head Ball Coach was hoping he wouldn't have to resort to this.
"We've got a little bit different plan in place of making sure our guys know their assignments and not confuse them with anything, " Spurrier said.
"We've simplified our defense I think to where the guy shouldn't be running wide-open like last week against Navy.
"Hopefully, we just let our guys go play. If we're not any good, then we're not any good. Just don't blow assignments. If we can't cover them we can't cover them. That's the way life is. Just make sure we don't beat ourselves and give our guys a chance to go play the game. That's what we're going to try to do."