Chris Clark of Gamecockcentral.com took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Gator Country and discuss all things surrounding the matchup between Florida and South Carolina this Saturday in Columbia. We asked Clark 10 questions and in part one we discuss Steve Spurrier’s impact at USC, how the Gators are being perceived from the outside, if the 41-11 loss last season serves as motivation Mike Davis and Connor Shaw.
How has Steve Spurrier changed the culture at South Carolina?
Chris Clark: I think he’s raised the expectations of the fan base. He got to South Carolina. There was a game in 2006, South Carolina played Auburn at home and lost. It was a close game but they lost and the fans actually clapped at the end of that game. At the post game presser, Spurrier was kind of like, why are we clapping? You shouldn’t clap when we’re losing. That was the first sign that the bar was raised.
He’s done things at South Carolina that have never been done before. Back-to-back 11-win seasons, turning the fortune around with Clemson, beating Georgia, Tennessee and Florida much more regularly than had been done in the past, getting to the SEC title game once and being at least in position every year to compete for that.
What is the perception of this Florida team from the outside? Is there less excitement about this game because Florida is coming in on a down year?
Clark: I think the excitement is more based around just having a shot to stay in the SEC East race. And certainly when you get a night game, it could be against anybody, even if the last SEC game was last week against Mississippi State, people would still be excited about a night game. This is a must win game (for USC to stay alive in the SEC East race), so this is a do-or-die game.
How does the 41-11 loss for South Carolina last season motivate the team this season?
Clark: Last year was an absolute debacle down in Gainesville and that’s something that fans would really like, I guess the revenge factor if you want to call it that. Now the team is not playing it up like that. They’re calling it just another game, saying what’s done is done and no matter whom they were playing they have to win this game.
It’s hard to go back and look at a game, and it sounds crazy to say that South Carolina’s defense was the bright spot in a game where the other team scored 40 points and you lost by 30, but that was really the case. It was one of the wildest games I’ve ever seen.
Anytime you can beat Florida, Gamecock fans are always going to be happy with SEC wins, but when you get them against the traditional powers in the east whether it’s Florida, Georgia or Tennessee I think it makes it even sweeter for the fan base. I’m sure a lot of the guys that were out on the field last year have a bad taste in their mouth, more than anything they’re motivated to stay in the East race and if they don’t get it done versus Florida that’s over.
How does Florida stop Mike Davis and how critical is he to the Gamecock’s success on Saturday?
Clark: He’s critical and he’s having a great year. Mike’s a really good back, he’s one of the best in the SEC, one of the best in the country probably. South Carolina’s offensive line has made strides and they’re at their best when they’re running the ball. Whether it’s Davis or Connor Shaw, who should be healthier this week.
South Carolina got in trouble against Tennessee, they really shouldn’t have dropped that game, but they played poorly offensively. One reason is they sort of got away form the run that day even though Davis had some really good runs. So, he’s vital. If you can make South Carolina one-dimensional that will really play into Florida’s hands. I think South Carolina’s gameplan is going to be to run it this week so that is going to be key.
Connor Shaw came into the season with a 17-3 win/loss record but seemed to be maligned by the fan base. Has his performances against Missouri and Mississippi State kind of changed that feeling?
Clark: I guess. To me, covering the program, it’s unbelievable that some and I think it’s the minority but a vocal minority for some reason, it’s almost like they root against Connor for some reason, it’s the strangest thing. They love to point out his flaws, they pointed to his losses n the road and it’s hard to get wins on the road.
A lot of fans really, really, loved Stephen Garcia when he was at Carolina and of course, he and Connor had some competition when they were on the roster, maybe some of it is that, a loyalty to Garcia. What Connor Shaw’s done at South Carolina really speaks for itself.
With that said, I think him coming off the bench when he was so banged up and leading the gamecocks to that road win at Missouri kind of got the monkey off the back for some fans. You know, playing hurt against Mississippi State, throwing for touchdown passes the next week. I even got e-mail from some of our subscribers who had been part of that vocal minority and they basically said, “hey, I was wrong.” I think most people recognize what he has meant to the program and what he has done.