South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, the ‘Ol Ball Coach, was entertaining as always when he addressed the media to kick off the Tuesday session of SEC Media Days.
In addition to quipping about Davy Crockett and his plan to retire on the beach after his NFL coaching days (we’ll get to those later), Spurrier also gave an idea what’s to come for the 2014 Gamecocks, a team coming off an 11-2 season that culminated with a 34-24 victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
Let’s get started.
Dylan Thompson gets his shot
After waiting patiently for years at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Connor Shaw, the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history, fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson will finally get his shot at being the Gamecocks’ starter.
Despite being a backup for his entire career to this point, Thompson has gotten some significant playing time in the past few years in relief of Shaw. Thompson boasts a 3-0 career record as a starter, including a 310-yard passing performance in a win over in-state rival Clemson in 2012.
Spurrier expressed confidence that Thompson will be able to fill the void left by Shaw.
“We really believe he's a very good player and has a chance to lead us to a big season,” Spurrier said. “He's a fifth‑year player. He's been to all the games. He's 3‑0 as a starter and played the entire game last year against Central Florida. He's got to pack his college career into one season. He's the type of young man that really wants to make the most of it. Hopefully that will happen for all of us.”
In an era where players are often quick to transfer due to playing time, Spurrier lauded Thompson’s patience to wait for his shot.
“Dylan has been very patient. He and Connor Shaw are best of friends – now he’s got it all by himself. It just worked out that way. Occasionally it does. He’s a good player. He’s ready to play,” Spurrier said.
Big test in season opener
South Carolina’s 18-game home winning streak will be put to the test in a season-opening showdown with Texas A&M on a Thursday night. Johnny Manziel is gone and the Aggies did not play a spring game due to the renovation of Kyle Field, so there’s a bit of mystery surrounding A&M in 2014. Spurrier knows that the Aggies will present a serious challenge, but the mystery doesn’t change the way his team will prepare.
“Oh, you prepare for them about the same way we prepare for all of them,” Spurrier said. “We watch a little tape of their games last year, try to generally get their scheme of things, this, that and the other. Then we really worry about ourselves more than the opponent. We try to get ourselves ready to play. Try to be prepared for anything and everything. Hopefully we're prepared for almost anything.”
Spurrier acknowledged the early success the Aggies, led by Kevin Sumlin, have had in their first two seasons in the SEC.
“A&M has recruited well, I know that. I read those rankings every year like you do. I think they’ve been in the top 10 the last three years. They’ve got ball players. They’re going to be ready to play. We have tremendous respect for Texas A&M,” Spurrier said.
Replacing d-line depth
We all know that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney – the top pick in the NFL draft – is gone. But in addition to Clowney, two other starters on the defensive line, tackle Kelcy Quarles and end Chaz Sutton, are gone too. Defense has long been the strength of Spurrier’s football teams at South Carolina, but there are some serious question marks in 2014.
J.T. Surratt is the lone returning starter along the line. He’ll be leaned on heavily to provide leadership, Spurrier said.
“J.T. Surratt probably will be one of our senior captains when we do the voting in mid‑season,” Spurrier said. “He's played a lot. I think he started about all the games last year. He's a good, solid inside player and an excellent leader. He should have a big season.”
Spurrier said that the defensive end position is where “some guys have got to come around and play.” Sophomores Gerald Dixon and Darius English are currently penciled in as the starters at end, while Gerald Dixon Jr. (the other Dixon’s half-brother) is a favorite to take over for Quarles inside.
Best of Spurrier
Spurrier is one of the most quotable coaches in college football. He offered plenty of evidence of that on Tuesday. Here’s a taste.
On the proposed Alamo Trophy between the Gamecocks and Texas A&M:
“I heard about (the trophy). Read about it. Didn't know it's official yet. I'm actually from Tennessee. I always was taught the hero of the Alamo was Davy Crockett, so this was a new one on me. It's a good story, I'm sure Bonham did some good things. I always thought Davie Crockett was the hero of the Alamo, he and those 33 Tennessee guys that came in there and got killed, and so forth. So the trophy was a little surprising to me.”
On Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who recently signed a contract extension.
“Kevin Sumlin has an excellent record as a coach. He’s a good negotiator, we know that also, so he’s got a good deal. He’s ready to go.”
On why he’s still coaching after all these years:
“Obviously you never know what your path in life is going to lead to. When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach in the NFL for five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch and travel around. That was a bad plan.”
On his comments about Nick Saban and Alabama:
"I just made a statement that I think they've had five number one recruiting classes out of the last six years, which has got to make him the greatest recruiter in the history of college football. Arguably, they've got the greatest collection of football players ever assembled for a college team. They're the favorites, there's no question about that. As long as they can recruit like that, they're always going to be the favorites."
On former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, who is now working with the media:
“I saw him on TV last night. He was interviewed by our local TV celebrity in Columbia there. He got his long hair back. I said it looked like he had joined Duck Dynasty instead of the media. They assured me he's with the media now.”
On Dylan Thompson’s play in 2013:
“He played the entire game last year against Central Florida. Connor Shaw got hurt in the first quarter. He's the only quarterback in the nation to beat UCF.”
Never change, Coach. Never change.
For more South Carolina news, visit GamecockCentral.com.
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