Today I had a chance to do a Q&A session with Gamecock Man over at Garnet and Black Attack, the excellent SB Nation blog that covers South Carolina sports. He answered a number of questions about the Carolina program and what to look for Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. His answers are below. I reciprocated over at his site and you can read my answers here.
Thanks to Gamecock Man for taking the time to share his thoughts on the game. I know you'll find his answers interesting.
TET: This weekend is a chance for South Carolina to send a message to the nation that it's ready to challenge Florida. What's the mood like in Carolina this week with the fans and coaches? How important is this game to the program?
GM: I'm not going to lie - a lot of Carolina fans view this as a very, very important game. Although the Georgia win was huge and we're happy with the team's performance so far, the truth is that we know that beating the Dawgs is only a small step towards our goals for the year. We remember having beaten Georgia before but, eventually, being disappointed in our quest for a spot in Atlanta. Think back to 2007. Carolina beat Georgia and went on the road to face what I believe was a second-ranked LSU team. We were exposed in Baton Rouge and ended up floundering later in the season. Auburn isn't ranked as highly as LSU was that year, but a lot of us view this game like we viewed that one--as a chance to prove that the Georgia win wasn't a fluke and that we're capable of sustaining our early-season momentum throughout the year. In that sense, we think we're going to learn a lot about our team this weekend.
I'd say the mood for us is cautiously optimistic. The Furman game was a little ugly, but for the most part this looks like Steve Spurrier's best Carolina team by far. We know that Auburn will provide a tough challenge, but we also think that this year we might have the guns to win a big tilt like this. Emphasis on might.
TET: How do South Carolina fans view Steve Spurrier now? Is this a must win season for him in Columbia or does he have time to take the program to the next level? It seemed like at the end of last season, he was tired and maybe didn't have his heart into coaching completely. Is that a fair assumption?
GM: It depends on what you mean by "must win." I don't think it's BCS-or-bust for Spurrier this year. If he can prove to himself and the fans that he can do more than win six or seven games and that he can at least have us in the national conversation, I think most of us will be pleased with what he's done. That means winning at least eight or nine regular-season games; getting a spot in a bowl not located in Shreveport, Birmingham, or Nashville; and hopefully finishing with a national ranking. If he can't do that, I think that a lot of us are going to begin to believe that maybe he can't get it done here.
I'm not sure I'd say that Spurrier is worn out on the job yet. He seemed like he might be late in 2008, but he seemed fairly energetic last year, and throughout fall practice and the early part of this season he's seemed excited about our prospects for success. I think he sees that this team has more talent than his past ones, and that has to be motivating to him. In this regard, I think it's interesting to see how much he's opening up the playbook this year. Notwithstanding the fact that he gave Lattimore the ball a lot against Georgia, we've seen a much more aggressive Spurrier in many cases, one not afraid to run risky plays that he wouldn't have run in past years. That's the old Spurrier from the Florida days, and it's a sign that he's a more confident coach that believes he has the right weapons in place to have the offense he wants.
TET: How important was the signing of Marcus Lattimore? Had he left his home state and gone to Auburn, what impact, perception wise, would that have had on Spurrier and his staff?
GM: I wouldn't have blamed Lattimore if he had gone to Auburn (we both know which school has the most tradition between Auburn and USC), but losing him wouldn't have shined well on the staff. Because of his background and family situation, Lattimore was viewed from the beginning as a Carolina lean who was ours to lose. However, we've had trouble with losing the best in-state players (A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap) to the glamour schools. Not getting Lattimore would have been seen as another indication that top-shelf talent doesn't want to come to Columbia, even when we have everything working in our favor other than our history. The staff got him, though, and it's obviously been a major coup for us, as Lattimore appears to be the real deal.
We've got a similar situation brewing right now, by the way, with Javedeon Clowney. Clowney is another guy that most people think will come to Carolina if he believes we're good enough to compete in the SEC while he's here. Bama's pursuing him, though, and I think it's going to be key that we make some progress in the W-L department this season if we're going to get him.
TET: What's the primary storyline with the South Carolina team this week?
GM: Well, as you probably know, former standout receiver Kenny McKinley was found dead this week, apparently by his own hand. The news has been a big blow to the team, and it will be interesting to see how they handle the distraction in a high-pressure. I believe, by the way, that they're wearing helmet decals with McKinley's number on them.
TET: What memories do you have of the Auburn-South Carolina series and what are your favorites?
GM: Unfortunately, there really aren't many good ones. We haven't beaten Auburn since joining the SEC, and some of the games have been pretty ugly. We also suffered having Kenny Irons transfer to you guys when Lou Holtz didn't give him carries in 2004, only to reemerge as a Heisman candidate at Auburn and to help Auburn beat us twice in the process.
The 2006 game was an exciting one that had some nice memories for Carolina, but it ended in a loss, so it's hard to get too excited about it.