Desperate Times: South Carolina, UCF seeking success
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) After three games, both UCF (0-3) and South Carolina (1-2) are spiraling downward and looking to take a step in the winning direction. Both will be looking to turn things around on Saturday when they square at Williams-Brice Stadium.
With both in need of a positive spark, this matchup could be aptly dubbed the Desperation Bowl
UCF is dead last in offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision and was beaten at home last week by FCS opponent Furman, 16-15. South Carolina followed a 26-22 home loss to Kentucky by getting pounded, 52-20, at No. 7 Georgia last week.
Just two years ago when these teams metthey were among the best in college football with a combined 23-3 mark between them.
''Yeah, I think we were the only ones to beat them,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier recalled of UCF's 12-1 mark in 2013.
Those teams were led by two of the NFL's top three draft picks in spring 2014 - South Carolina by No. 1 pick defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and UCF by No. 3 pick quarterback Blake Bortles.
UCF coach George O'Leary can't worry about the players he had, just about improving the ones he's got now. He said the Knights have struggled at finishing games and putting points on the board, averaging just 12 points a game this season. Perhaps the Gamecocks are the perfect antidote since they rank last in the Southeastern Conference in points given up at more than 30 per game.
''I think that's the issue right there, and obviously the game this week is a typical SEC team,'' O'Leary said. ''And again, we're going to have to play a lot better than we did the first three games.''
Things to watch when UCF plays South Carolina:
MISSING BACKS: UCF will be without its top running back and South Carolina might join in that predicament. The Knights dismissed all-American Athletic Conference first-team runner William Stanback this week for what the school said was a continual violation of team rules. The Gamecocks might be without leading rusher Brandon Wilds, who bruised his ribs in the Georgia loss and did not practice for most of the week. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said backup Shon Carson would start at tailback Saturday.
FREE FALL TEAMS: South Carolina and UCF are both programs led by aging, yet successful coaches who are currently trending downward. The Gamecocks and 70-year-old Steve Spurrier went 11-2 for three straight seasons from 2011-13, yet are 8-8 since. UCF and 69-year-old George O'Leary had won a program-best nine or more games for three consecutive seasons from 2012-14, yet have lost five of their past nine games. Combined, Spurrier and O'Leary have won 340 games in college football. They're 1-5 together this season.
ANOTHER NEW QB: South Carolina starts third different quarterback in as many weeks with true freshman Lorenzo Nunez getting the call against UCF. Connor Mitch was the Gamecocks starter for the first two games, but was sidelined with a separated right throwing shoulder sustained in week two against Kentucky. Former walk-on Perry Orth started the Georgia game, throwing for 66 yards and an interception against the Bulldogs. Spurrier believes Nunez gives the Gamecocks a spark the other quarterbacks don't.
DEFENSIVE CHANGES: South Carolina will also make several changes on defense after Georgia posted 576 yards last week. Linebacker T.J. Holloman is expected to get a starting slot while coordinator Jon Hoke said other options might be looked at among safeties and cornerbacks. The Gamecocks are at or near the bottom in several SEC defensive categories.
REMEMBER WHEN: UCF was the opponent 10 years ago when Steve Spurrier made his return to college football at South Carolina. Spurrier and the Gamecocks held on for a 24-15 against coach George O'Leary's Knights. ''I still remember on the bus coming to the stadium, our fans were out there with their fingers in the air to see South Carolina football. The stadium was packed for kickoff, packed during warmups that night. That brings back some fond memories, '' Spurrier said. Eleven seasons later, Spurrier has won a school record 85 games at South Carolina.