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November 13, 2008

SEC: Spurrier ready to battle Florida

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

In one of the most memorable games of his Florida tenure, Steve Spurrier knocked Florida State out of national championship contention by rotating two quarterbacks on every play.

He may try a similar strategy Saturday in an attempt to devastate his former school's national title hopes.

South Carolina beat Arkansas 34-21 last week with quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley trading snaps for most of the game. The move brought back memories of the way Spurrier utilized Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise 11 years ago in Florida's 32-29 upset of top-ranked Florida State.

Spurrier has indicated Garcia and Smelley will split time again Saturday at Florida.

"Both of our guys, I think, deserve to play," Spurrier said. "That's one way of doing that and eliminating signals and all that stuff."

The rotation system didn't seem to bother either quarterback last week.

Although Garcia and Smelley both completed less than half their passes, they threw for a combined 219 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception. The system also didn't seem to bother the rest of South Carolina's offense. Kenny McKinley caught seven passes for 130 yards and a touchdown to become the school's all-time leading receiver.

"It's not as odd as you would think," McKinley said. "We're all practicing the same plays, so it's not like it's a whole different scheme in there."

Of course, it won't matter how well South Carolina's quarterbacks perform unless the Gamecocks do a better job of containing Florida's quarterback.

Tim Tebow accounted for seven touchdowns last year in a 51-31 victory at South Carolina. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has played his best football of the season the last few weeks to help put the Gators right back in the national championship picture.

Florida already has clinched an SEC Championship Game appearance against Western Division winner Alabama and controls its own destiny in the BCS sweepstakes. The Gators are seeking their second national title in the last three years.

The Gators won the 2006 national championship only after squeaking past South Carolina 17-16 by blocking a Ryan Succop field-goal attempt as time expired.

South Carolina's chances of throwing a similar scare into Florida depends on how well its two quarterbacks perform at The Swamp.

Is it an unorthodox approach? Certainly.

Then again, Spurrier already used a two-quarterback system to produce an upset that remains one of the most memorable victories in Florida history.

If the move works again Saturday, it could produce a result equally memorable to Gator fans for an entirely different reason.

  • Best matchup
  • Florida QB Tim Tebow vs. South Carolina's defense: Tebow pretty much clinched the Heisman Trophy last year by running for five touchdowns and passing for two more scores in a 51-31 victory at South Carolina. The Gamecocks get a chance Saturday to prove how far they've come since finishing last in the SEC in rushing defense a year ago. In its first season under new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, South Carolina ranks third in the nation in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, 11th in rushing defense and 12th in pass efficiency defense. The Gamecocks haven't allowed any individual to rush for 100 yards since North Carolina State's Andre Brown gained 101 yards in the opener. While South Carolina hardly resembles the defense that couldn't stop anyone last year, Tebow looks very much like the guy who dominated the Gamecocks in 2007. He was named the SEC offensive player of the week after producing three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs in a 42-14 victory over Vanderbilt. South Carolina won't stop Tebow this week, but the Gamecocks have no chance of pulling the upset unless they can at least slow him down.

  • Player to watch
    Georgia at Auburn, 12:30 p.m.
    Louisiana-Monroe at Ole Miss, 2 p.m.
    South Carolina at Florida, 3:30 p.m.
    Mississippi State at Alabama, 7:45 p.m.
    Troy at LSU, 8 p.m.
    Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 8 p.m.
    Auburn QB Kodi Burns: Auburn hasn't received much production from the quarterback position all season, but that changed last week. Burns ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns and also went 12-for-20 through the air in a 37-20 victory over Tennessee-Martin. Was that a sign Burns has turned the corner, or a mere example of a mediocre player lighting up a Football Championship Subdivision defense? We should get a better idea Saturday when Burns' team faces Georgia. The Bulldogs already struggled against a mobile quarterback last week before escaping Kentucky with a 42-38 victory. If Burns can play as well as he did against Tennessee-Martin the next two weeks, Auburn has a fighting chance of earning a bowl bid by upsetting either Georgia or Alabama. If Burns reverts to the inconsistency he has shown the rest of the season, Auburn doesn't have any shot of winning either of its two remaining games.

  • Who's hot
  • Alabama FS Rashad Johnson has five interceptions in his last four games. Florida WR Percy Harvin has scored at least one touchdown in every game he has played this season. An injury forced him to sit out a season-opening victory over Hawaii. Florida QB Tim Tebow has nine touchdown passes, eight touchdown runs and only one interception in his last four games. Florida SS Ahmad Black has picked off a pass in three consecutive games. Georgia WR Mohamed Massaquoi has caught a total of 13 passes for 303 yards in his last two games, though he did lose two fumbles last week in a 42-38 victory over Kentucky. LSU RB Charles Scott has rushed for seven touchdowns in his last four games. Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games. South Carolina LB Eric Norwood has compiled five sacks in his last two games. Norwood now leads the SEC with seven sacks this season.

  • Who's not
  • Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin has missed all three of his field-goal attempts in his last two games. Georgia kicker Blair Walsh has gone 3-for-8 on field-goal attempts in his last four games. LSU QB Jarrett Lee has thrown eight interceptions in his last three games. He has thrown six interceptions that were returned for touchdowns this season. Tennessee QB Nick Stephens has gone 13-for-33 passing for 161 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns in his last two games. Vanderbilt QB Mackenzi Adams has gone 40-for-80 passing with six interceptions and three touchdowns during the Commodores' four-game losing streak.

  • What they're saying
  • "I still have my mind made up. Unless something really comes up, I still have my mind made up on coming back for next year."
    − Alabama NG Terrence Cody to the Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register. Cody is considered a potential first-round draft pick.

    "I feel sorry for our fans because I know how bad they want us to win. I know a lot of people think I can't make it at this level, but I still want the ball in my hands. I want to be out there. I know I get too excited sometimes, but growing up is part of the process, I guess."
    − LSU QB Jarrett Lee to The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune after throwing four interceptions in a 27-21 overtime loss to Alabama.

    "Every time I hear that song on the radio, I'm like, 'Aw, turn it off.' We're all motivated by it this week." − Auburn RB Brad Lester to AuburnSports.com, referring to how Georgia's players danced to "Crank That" by Soulja Boy during the Bulldogs' 45-20 victory over the Tigers last year.

    "I feel like the beginning of the year we might have been pressing a little bit. We wanted to be too perfect as an offense. I wanted to try to make every play and try to do everything 100 percent right instead of just letting plays come to me and going out there and having fun. Now I feel like I'm relaxing a little bit more and going out there and having fun and making plays and leading the offense and being a great decision-maker. I don't think (the Heisman) was a big deal in my mind. I think what was [the] big deal was trying to have that undefeated season and trying to go to the SEC championship and trying to win the national championship."
    − Florida QB Tim Tebow to The Florida Times-Union.

    "We are trying to get our players to understand that sometimes these big ol' rats will get to feeling good about themselves and getting fat, and all of a sudden, you walk into a big trap where you think [there] is a big piece of cheese, but it isn't."
    - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt to RebelSports.net on why he scattered rat traps throughout the Rebels' football complex in the week leading up to Saturday's game with Louisiana-Monroe.

  • Etc.
  • Although Jarrett Lee remains LSU's starting quarterback after throwing four interceptions last week, LSU coach Les Miles indicated true freshman Jordan Jefferson also will receiving playing time Saturday against Troy. South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson could have some extra cash for the holidays. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier noted Wednesday at the SEC weekly teleconference that Johnson's contract included an incentive clause in case the Gamecocks finished among the top half of SEC teams in total defense. South Carolina currently leads the league in that category. Alabama will try to end a dubious streak Saturday in its rivalry with Mississippi State. The Tide have lost two consecutive games to Mississippi State and haven't scored an offensive touchdown against the Bulldogs since 2004. Florida and Alabama already have clinched their respective division championships. Auburn DT Sen'Derrick Marks and DE Antonio Coleman sat out the Tennessee-Martin game with injuries, but both star linemen are expected to play against Georgia. Auburn WR Montez Billings (nose) and LB Merrill Johnson (hand) will probably miss the game. Alabama RB Roy Upchurch has a neck injury that leaves him doubtful for the Mississippi State game. The SEC owns a 32-8 record in non-conference games and leads the nation with an .800 non-conference winning percentage. Alabama FS Rashad Johnson tied a school single-game record with his three interceptions last week. Auburn's 37-20 victory over Tennessee-Martin gave the Tigers a 46-0 record when they have scored at least 30 points during Tommy Tuberville's coaching tenure. Kodi Burns' 158 rushing yards against Tennessee-Martin were the most by an Auburn quarterback since 1974. LSU has scored at least 21 points in 30 consecutive games. South Carolina WR Kenny McKinley now has a school-record 2,602 receiving yards.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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