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pressbox1.com - Two-a-days: South Carolina and Texas A&M
Date: Tuesday, September 1 2015
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Two-a-days: South Carolina and Texas A&M

JIM STEELE, Editor
pressbox1.com
SPURRIER LOOKING FOR QUARTERBACK, HOPES FOR BETTER FORTUNE IN 2015 - South Carolina started the 2014 season ranked No. 5 in the country and then suffered a 52-28 loss to Texas A&M in the season opener.

From there, the Gamecocks were up and down, beating Georgia then bowing to Tennessee later. They finished the season at 7-6, to which Spurrier suggested the team was doing cartwheels over the winning mark, passively taking jabs at Arkansas and Tennessee, both of whom finished 7-6.

"We got new life, we were 7-6, same as Tennessee, same as Arkansas and I think they are sort of celebrating big seasons last year," Spurrier said. "We're celebrating also; we were doing some cartwheels and high-fiving after that Independence Bowl game because it's a year that could have gone south."

The Gamecocks return 13 starters from last year's team, but only four on offense, so a quarterback battle has ensued. It seems that Carolina will settle in with sophomore Connor Mitch, who, in his career, has completed two of four passes for 19 yards. Spurrier has hinted he may play two or three quarterbacks this season.

"We had three quarterbacks rotating around in spring practice and, statistically, in the spring game, they were very even," said the coach. "Connor Mitch is a good player, but I've been a coach who has played quarterback and you can win with two quarterbacks and there's nothing in the rules that says you can't, so if we play more than one it's because they are both even."

Junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper has drawn a lot of pre-season attention because he returns as the team's leading passer and receiver as well as the third-leading rusher. He's a guy who can do it all an Carolina will do what must to get the ball in his hands.

"We call him the South Carolina Pharoh," said Spurrier. "He's really an All-American type player; he can play receiver, shotgun quarterback, he can throw and run."

Last year, Cooper had 36 catches for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns. As a passer, he was 5-8 for 78 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On the ground, he carried 27 times for 200 yards and a pair of TDs.

The other three offensive starters are all linemen, led by senior tackle Brandon Shell, whose great uncle is former Raider great Art Shell. He's a fifth-year senior and the most experienced player on the team and has started in 35 straight games. He also is an all-SEC academic team member. Center Alan Knott and guard Will Sport return as well.

The Gamecocks hope for help running the ball. Brandon Wilds returns as the leading rusher with 570 yards and four touchdowns. David Williams had 256 yards rushing a year ago. On the perimeter, Cooper will have company in Jerrell Adams, who had 279 yards and a score last year.

"We have excellent runners, offensive line and so forth," Spurrier said. "We need to stay on the field because if we can it will help our defense."

Speaking of defense, linebacker Skai Moore had 93 tackles a year ago. Safety D.J. Gurley had 80 stops last year; linebacker Jonathan Walton had 61 total tackles a year ago. Even though the coach said he hopes to take pressure off the defense with his offense, the defense returns enough veterans to perhaps be a strength of the team.

"We got John Hoke and he was with me at Florida in 2001 when we led the SEC in total defense and scoring defense," said Spurrier of his new co-defensive coordinator. "You can get a lot better on defense and we have a lot of good coaches here."

South Carolina opens with North Carolina in Charlotte on Thursday, Sept. 3. Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri dot the schedule in its first five games. Carolina's crossover games are with LSU and Texas A&M. The LSU game may be a good litmus test for this team, moving forward. The Gamecocks end the season with what will likely be a nationally-ranked Clemson team in Columbia.

AGGIES COULD BE ANOTHER OF THOSE SEC-WEST SLEEPERS - One thing about Texas A&M most people agree on is that the Aggies are going to score points. But their achilles heel a year ago was the fact that they couldn't stop anyone.

Add to the fact that the Aggies had their struggles moving the ball on Louisiana State, so instead of trying to beat the Tigers, they just hired away their defensive coordinator in John Chavis.

"That's exactly what I did," said Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin. "We looked at it and we get it; we struggled on defense and John coming here is a great fit for us and he was ready for a new challenge."

Chavis, of course, was part of Tennessee's national-title run in 1998. Some have said that Chavis may be a new breath of fresh air on the defensive side of the ball, but does A&M have the horses to implement Chavis's defensive plan?

"Our first year here, we had a group of seniors who are physically and mentally tough. Last year I think guys like Armani Watts, who started off the year great playing free safety for us, had a great game against South Carolina," Sumlin said. "Week six, seven, eight, nine, he just was worn down, so mentally it's different (because of the maturity level.)"

Armani Watts was the second-leading tackler last year with 59. Junior linebacker Shaan Washington returns as the leading tackler from last year with 64. The defense returns eight starters, so Chavis has something to work with.

Offensively, Kyle Allen is back at quarterback. A year ago, there was a lot of hype over Kenny Hill, who had a record-setting 511 passing yards in the season opener. Toward the end of the season, Hill had his struggles on and off the field and he was suspended. Hill transferred to Texas Christian and has to sit out this season. But Allen who threw for 1,322 yards and 16 touchdowns proved to be a capable understudy a year ago, which is why he's the guy this year.

"Look at Kyle Allen," Sumlin said. "He's coming off and MVP bowl performance and has had nothing but confidence this off-season."

The Aggies have three returnees up front on offense, including junior tackle Germain Ifedi and senior center Mike Matthews.

Junior wide receiver Josh Reynolds led the returnees with 842 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior running back Tra Carson rushed for 581 yards and five touchdowns.

But a lot of young players, Allen included, had strong finishes to last year's team, which excites Sumlin.

"We finished on a high note with a bowl victory, but look at how many freshmen we had out there," he said. "Two freshmen free safeties, all three linebackers, Myles Garrett, a true freshman, to win that game in the fashion that we did gave those young guys some confidence and a springboard going into this season."

The Aggies have a heightened sense of urgency as the season approaches because it faces nationally-ranked Arizona State in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 5. But the schedule sets up pretty well for A&M. It won't leave the state of Texas until Oct. 24 when it heads to Ole Miss. It faces and Alabama team coming off a game with Arkansas at College Station. Oh, by the way, the Aggies will have an open date before it plays the Tide. If Chavis can tighten up the defense and Sumlin can find the additional points-per-game he seeks this year, the Aggies just might have the ingredients for an interesting run.

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