South Carolina began practicing Saturday morning for the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Michigan. The Gamecocks will practice once a day for the next seven days, with their last practice coming on Dec. 22, before they break for Christmas. They travel to Tampa, Fla., for the bowl game on Dec. 26.
Because USC’s final exams don’t end until Monday, the Gamecocks had an abbreviated practice Saturday with far less than the full complement of players. Afterward, USC coach Steve Spurrier spoke about the first practice, two backups whose careers are now over, his Heisman Trophy vote and wide receiver Bruce Ellington’s future and immediate plans.
“We didn’t do much at all today,” he said. “We had some confusion on finals and practice and half the team wasn’t here, so we just did a little bit with the young guys and sent them to the weight room.
“We didn’t know we were going to be missing half the team, so we had a helter skelter type of practice and really just let the young guys run around a little bit. The guys that are going to play in the game, they’re all taking finals. Well, a few of them are out here. But we had some confusion. We’ll catch up, though. We’ve got plenty of time to catch up and get ready preparation-wise.
“We’ll really start getting into Michigan actually Sunday. We’re going to have our scouting report and get all that stuff going. Coaches have been traveling around (recruiting), players taking finals and we’ll really start getting into Michigan and getting game plans ready (Sunday).”
** Spurrier’s initial thoughts on Michigan?
“At times, they’ve been very, very good on defense,” he said. “At times, they’ve struggled a bit on offense. At other times, they’ve looked very good on offense. They’re 8-4 and they’ve lost to some good teams. Looks like they’re tough to run on. Hopefully won’t be too tough to hit a few balls (passing) on, but who knows? They’re a very good team.”
** Starting quarterback Connor Shaw (sprained left foot) was replaced for the entire regular season finale victory at Clemson by Dylan Thompson, but has healed.
“He says he’s going to practice (Sunday),” Spurrier said. “The trainers held him out (Saturday). He was running around a little bit, so he’ll be able to practice (Sunday). The plan (for the bowl) is to start Connor and get Dylan in somewhere in the first half, first quarter maybe, and really just get both of them ready to play, see how it goes.”
** Spurrier said USC doesn’t have any academic-related suspensions at this point.
“We don’t think so,” he said. “We had a couple (violation of) team rule guys that will not be with us (for the bowl). Kyle Harris and D.L. Moore will not be with us on this trip. Kyle Harris, he will be transferring. He will not be back. D.L. will not be with us. He is finished. His career is over.”
Harris is a redshirt freshman backup center and guard who played sparingly this season and started once. Moore is a backup senior wide receiver who had eight catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns this season and is not a major part of USC’s offense. In short, the loss of these players is not a significant blow to the Gamecocks.
** Spurrier said on Dec. 2, when the USC-Michigan matchup was announced, that he would reveal his Heisman Trophy ballot after the reward was handed out.
“I said that?” he said Saturday. “I said I will tell you what I voted?”
He at least said that he put one of his own players on his ballot, as he does ever year.
“I voted for (defensive end Jadeveon) Clowney,” Spurrier said. “I didn’t tell you that the last time (on Dec. 2)? I did vote him first. Yeah, I did. I’ll tell you that. And then I voted for the guys that finished first and second after that (Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o). (Clowney) got four first-place votes. Did you notice that?”
That is correct. He did get four first-place votes and finished sixth overall in the voting.
So does Spurrier really put one of his own guys on his ballot every year?
“Well, of course I do,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I? The one year I wasn’t coaching (2004) I didn’t.”
What does he think it would take for an exclusively defensive player like Clowney to win the award?
“Oh, I don’t need to worry about that,” he said. “We’re worried about Michigan right now. But it would be hard for a defensive guy to win it, because Manti Te’o did have a super year.”
** Ellington, who also plays point guard for the basketball team, leads USC with 38 catches for 564 yards this season. He is second with six touchdowns. He is still just a sophomore in his football eligibility, but when asked recently whether he will play football next year, Ellington said he hadn’t made up his mind.
Does Spurrier expect him back with the football team next season?
“Why?” Spurrier said. “Did somebody say he wasn’t (going to be back)?”
Spurrier was then informed of what Ellington said about having not made up his mind yet.
“Oh, really?” Spurrier said. “Oh, OK. That’s fine. No, I haven’t worried about that. He is going to play in the basketball game Wednesday night (against Appalachian State) and then after that he’ll be with us through the bowl game completely. He’s going to practice (with football) a little bit up until (Wednesday). So hopefully he doesn’t get hurt. Well, he doesn’t get hurt hardly much at all anyway. We’re going to turn him loose and let him play on (Wednesday).”
The Appalachian State game will be the fourth basketball game of the season for Ellington. He will miss the two games after that (Dec. 22 against Manhattan in Brooklyn and Dec. 29 against Presbyterian at home) before returning for the first game after the bowl, Jan. 5 at home against South Carolina State.
It initially seemed unlikely that Ellington would play against Appalachian State because basketball coach Frank Martin said that once football’s pre-bowl practices started, Ellington would be 100 percent with football. But that plan has changed slightly.
Last season, Ellington played in a Dec. 28 game against Wofford, then took an early morning flight the next day to Orlando, Fla., and began practicing for the Jan. 2 Capital One Bowl.
Ellington missed just one basketball game for the bowl and was back with hoops for its Jan. 3 game against South Carolina State, albeit in a limited role. Ellington also played in a Dec. 21 game last year against Southeastern Louisiana, as the football team was preparing for the bowl. But he wasn’t as involved in the football team’s offense last season as he is this season.
So as it turns out, Ellington will miss two basketball games this year because of football and not three, as originally thought. And as mentioned above, he missed just one last year.