SEC: Eric Wolford

SEC mailbag: Hokies will be ready

December, 18, 2009
12/18/09
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If you don’t have all your Christmas shopping done, you better hurry. We’re a week away.

So before I hit the mall (yikes!), let’s empty out the SEC mailbag:

Jamie in Louisville, Ky., writes: Who in the SEC faces the toughest task in the bowl game, and who has the easiest task?

Chris Low: I think Tennessee is in for a real fight in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Virginia Tech is stout defensively (14th nationally in total defense), has a super freshman running back in Ryan Williams (fifth nationally with 1,538 rushing yards) and is always a load on special teams. The Hokies won their last four games and didn’t give up more than 13 points along the way. Plus, they really want to beat an SEC team after losing their last four games to SEC foes. The other thing that’s a concern for the Vols is that they weren’t the same defense the final month of the season. As for who has the easiest task, I’ll go with Georgia over Texas A&M in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl. I know the Bulldogs had their struggles on defense this season, but the Aggies gave up an average of 49 points in their six losses. Georgia might win this game something like 52-35.

Robert in Mobile, Ala., writes: Does Alabama and Mark Ingram have anything to worry about with the Heisman jinx? It seems like nobody ever plays well in the bowl game after winning the Heisman. Do you think that will affect the national championship game?

Chris Low: It’s a fact that the last four Heisman Trophy winners and five of the last six have lost in their bowl games, but four of those guys were quarterbacks. Ingram could have a so-so game, and I still think Alabama is balanced enough offensively to win. The Crimson Tide’s performance in the SEC championship game was an offensive clinic, and their line is playing at an extremely high level right now. All that said, I’ll try to ask coach Saban about his take on the Heisman jinx when I’m in Tuscaloosa next week. Then again, maybe I won’t.

Will in Little Rock, Ark., writes: In your blog about SEC bowl records, Alabama has a 3-3 record in bowl games this decade, winning in 01, 05 and 07 and losing in 04, 06 and 08. They didn’t play in 00, 02 and 03. So it’s not a 3-4 record. Thank you.

Chris Low: To clear up any confusion, I counted any game that was played from 2000 on as part of this decade. Alabama lost 35-34 to Michigan in overtime in the 2000 Orange Bowl, which is where the extra loss comes from. I realize that game came at the tail end of the 1999 season, but it was played on Jan. 1, 2000, which is the reason it was included. The same goes for Florida’s 37-34 loss to Michigan State (and Plaxico Burress) in the 2000 Citrus Bowl or Tennessee’s 31-21 loss to Nebraska in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.

Stan in North Augusta, S.C., writes: Hi Chris. Now that Coach Wolford has left South Carolina for the Youngstown State job, who do you think are the leading candidates for the offensive line job at South Carolina?

Chris Low: For starters, I don’t think coach Spurrier is real thrilled to be in the market for an offensive line coach for the second year in a row. I also don’t think he’s real thrilled with Wolford being one-and-done at South Carolina. The offensive line is the one aspect of that team you still wonder about. But if the Gamecocks can be a little more consistent up front and protect Stephen Garcia better next season, I think they have a chance to have their best season under Spurrier. The pieces seem to be in place everywhere else. The guy I would go get (and the guy Spurrier tried to hire last year) is Vanderbilt assistant head coach/offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, who’s a heck of a coach and a Pageland, S.C., native. Caldwell may be hard to pry away, though. He’s been with Bobby Johnson for a long time. Another guy to keep an eye on is Syracuse offensive line coach Greg Adkins, who was at Tennessee under Phillip Fulmer. Spurrier may take his time with this hire. He knows how important it is.

John in Lexington, Ky., writes: Why have you left Corey Peters off all of your All-SEC lists?

Chris Low: I wouldn’t take that as an indictment of Peters, who had his best season at Kentucky for sure. It’s just that there are so many quality defensive linemen in this league, and I felt Arkansas’ Malcolm Sheppard and Tennessee’s Dan Williams were a little better this season as interior linemen. If you noticed, I also didn’t have Alabama’s Terrence Cody or Florida’s Carlos Dunlap on my first team. Both guys are great players, but they didn’t necessarily have great seasons.

Lunchtime links: Auburn still catching up

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
12:15
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Making the rounds in the SEC:

Wolford leaving South Carolina

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
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South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is looking for a new offensive line coach for the second straight year.

Eric Wolford has agreed to become the head coach at Youngstown State, according to a report by TheBigSpur.com.

Wolford was also the Gamecocks' running game coordinator this season after coming over from Illinois.

Lunchtime links: Meyer hopeful on Tebow

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Some SEC linkage to sink your teeth into on a Tuesday:

Play-calling a group effort for Gamecocks

August, 31, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- My question to Steve Spurrier last week was about as straightforward as it gets.

How can the Head Ball Coach not be the main guy calling plays?

It's been one of most debated topics in South Carolina as the season approaches.

Spurrier's answer was pretty simple.

"Ultimately, I am the main play-caller," he said. "I know everything that's being called and sign off on everything that's being called. I'm responsible."

But Spurrier confirmed that for the second year in a row he would be delegating a bigger chunk of the play-calling duties to his staff, namely his son, Steve Spurrier, Jr.

"I'll probably still call the key plays, the third downs, the fourth-and-1's, and I'm sure I'll change a few," said Spurrier, flashing his familiar grin. "It's just something that I'm trying to spread out a little bit more and not do it all myself."

So far during the scrimmages, Spurrier Jr. has called most of the plays, but first-year offensive line coach and running game coordinator Eric Wolford also has a big say. For instance, they might ask him what he likes in the run game on a particular play. Most of the Gamecocks' running game has come out of the shotgun, similar to what Illinois did last season with Juice Williams when Wolford was on the Fighting Illini staff.

"We script a lot of it, and most of the work is done during the week," Spurrier said. "But it's going to be a little different this year with all the zone read stuff. That's coach Wolford's deal."

Calling 'ball plays' a group effort for Gamecocks

August, 5, 2009
8/05/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said during the SEC media days that the Gamecocks hadn't really formalized who would be the primary play-caller on offense this season.

The Head Ball Coach's son, Steve Spurrier Jr., took over a lot of the play calling last season and will be involved again this season. But look for running game coordinator and offensive line coach Eric Wolford to also take a pretty active role in calling plays after making the move from Illinois.

Spurrier likes what Wolford has to offer in the running game, and the Gamecocks have no choice but to get better. They were last in the SEC a year ago in rushing offense (and 112th nationally). They were the only team in the SEC to average fewer than 100 yards a game on the ground.

At the end of the day, as Spurrier has repeatedly pointed out, he will be "in charge" of the play calling.

But it's clear he's doing a lot more delegating in that area than he used to.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia said Tuesday that as many as four of the South Carolina coaches will have a hand in calling players. In addition to Spurrier, Spurrier Jr. and Wolford, you can also throw quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus into that mix. Mangus was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee for the past three seasons.

"I think it's going to be a lot better for us having a bunch of experienced coaches seeing the field," Garcia said.

As for Garcia's maturation into a leader, Mangus likes what he's seen over the summer. Now it's time to take that next step.

"I think he is slowly but surely earning some respect," Mangus said. "He has to earn the respect of all of his teammates."

Lunchtime links: Iron Bowl moving to Friday

April, 10, 2009
4/10/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

A check of the SEC headlines on the eve of a couple of spring games in the SEC. Georgia and South Carolina will both play their spring games on Saturday:

  • The Iron Bowl matchup between Alabama and Auburn will be played on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, each of the next two seasons and be televised by CBS. Recently, the Arkansas-LSU matchup has been played on that date.
  • Reserve running back Montario Patterson leaves the Mississippi State team, and coach Dan Mullen hints that there could be more attrition.
  • Emmanuel Moody, vying to prove that he can be Florida's every-down back, is making a move this spring in the Gators' backfield.

Time for an offensive upheaval at South Carolina

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

For a guy who revolutionized offensive football in the SEC, Steve Spurrier sure had a pedestrian offense last season at South Carolina.

And to be honest, calling it pedestrian is probably being kind. The Gamecocks just plain stunk most of the time.

 
  Doug Benc/Getty Images
  South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has to get the Gamecocks right on offense this year.
They couldn't run the ball. They couldn't pass protect. They couldn't consistently make plays down the field, and they turned it over a startling 38 times -- tying Washington State for the most giveaways in the country.

On top of it all, according to Spurrier, they also had a lousy attitude.

"Some of those guys who left ... that's fine. They were ready to get on out of here," Spurrier said. "I think our attitude will be better this year. It needs to be. I know our offseason conditioning attitude has been wonderful."

Counting his strength and conditioning coach, Spurrier also has six new coaches on his staff. His offensive staff is entirely new with the exception of his son, Steve Spurrier Jr., and that's not by accident.

"Some of (the coaches) were looking around because it was suggested they do so, and we didn't try too hard to keep them," Spurrier said of the mass exodus on his staff this offseason. "Sometimes, you need to change it up."

The Gamecocks open spring practice on Tuesday afternoon with their new look and what Spurrier hopes will be a renewed commitment to bringing an SEC championship to Columbia.

"When you have a school that doesn't have great tradition like here, you have to somehow try to forget about the past," said Spurrier, who's just 15-17 against SEC foes in his first four seasons at South Carolina and has lost five or more games overall all four years.

"Watching the Arizona Cardinals play this year drives that home. They did a super job of forgetting the past, that they weren't supposed to win, and believing they could and came within one play of winning it all. We sort of see our situation like theirs."

The Cardinals did it primarily with an explosive offense, whereas the Gamecocks are coming off one of the weakest showings for a Spurrier offense since he's been a head coach.

In fact, if not for the South Carolina defense last season, who knows how ugly it could have gotten?

It's a touchy subject for the Head Ball Coach, who's quick to point out that last season was the first time the Gamecocks actually finished higher in the SEC in total defense than they did in total offense since he arrived.

"I think most people think our defense has always been better around here," Spurrier said. "But in actuality, last year was the first year they ranked ahead of the offense. Hopefully, they're going to rank ahead of the offense again and our offense improves a lot. If that happens, then you've probably got a good team."

 
  Doug Benc/Getty Images
  Quarterback Stephen Garcia needs to prove he can bring the Gamecocks to the next level.
So much of what the Gamecocks do next season will revolve around how much Stephen Garcia matures as a quarterback. He's the only quarterback on the roster with any experience now that Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher are gone.

One thing Spurrier is committed to doing this season is incorporating more spread offense to better fit Garcia's style. But that also doesn't mean that Spurrier wants to see Garcia take off and run every time he feels pressure.

"Hopefully, Stephen Garcia can learn how to play the game," Spurrier said. "He's going to go through his first spring practice here. He got kicked out of the other two and got kicked out of both summer workouts. He's scheduled to make his first complete spring and first complete summer workouts with the guys.

"So, hopefully, he will be a lot more ready to play next year."

Much of that is on Garcia becoming a more devoted student of the game and becoming a stronger leader as he approaches his sophomore season. Nobody's ever doubted his physical tools.

But when we last saw him, he was busy turning the ball over on four of the Gamecocks' first five possessions in their Outback Bowl loss to Iowa. So he doesn't exactly come into the spring riding a wave of momentum.

"We've got to play better around Stephen, too," Spurrier said. "We have to make the plays that win games in this league, and we have to coach them better."

One of the biggest changes Spurrier made to his staff was bringing in Eric Wolford to coach the offensive line and serve as running game coordinator. Wolford's going to also play a big role in setting up the offense.

Last season, the Gamecocks were the only team in the SEC that didn't average at least 100 yards per game in rushing offense. They also gave up 39 sacks. Arkansas was the only SEC team that allowed more (45).

Clearly, there was an edge and a toughness that the South Carolina offensive line was missing last season.

Replacing Kenny McKinley at receiver will also be a chore. He's the Gamecocks' all-time leader in catches and receiving yards and made a bunch of key plays for them the last two years.

Joe Hills and Jason Barnes both showed promise last season as redshirt freshmen, but their roles will increase dramatically in 2009. The same goes for tight end Weslye Saunders now that Jared Cook is gone. When touted freshman receiver Alshon Jeffrey gets on campus this summer, he'll also get a chance right away to show what he can do.

The Gamecocks sorely lacked a breakaway threat at running back in 2008, but they hope they've filled that void with freshman Jarvis Giles, who enrolled early and will go through spring practice.

"We have a lot of good players here," Spurrier said. "I told our guys the other day, 'If our recruiting is ranked as high as sixth one year and 12th two years later, that means we're supposed to finish in the Top 10 in the country, fellas. That means we've got some ball players here, so let's try to eliminate the excuses and see if we can't mentally believe that we can go win a championship.' "

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