Spurrier's staff also enjoys win

By Times staff writers
Published November 13, 2005

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Don't think for one second Steve Spurrier and the other former Gators on his sideline didn't want to beat Florida badly Saturday afternoon.

The talk last week was about Spurrier, but the South Carolina staff is filled with Gator ties.

Defensive coordinator John Thompson was the Gators' defensive coordinator in 2002. John Hunt was the offensive line coach from 1999-2001. Steve Spurrier Jr. is a former assistant. David Reaves' father, John, was an All-America quarterback from 1969-71. And former running back Robert Gillespie is a graduate assistant.

They tried all week to downplay the game, but Saturday's postgame celebration on the field told the real story.

"This feels so good," Gillespie said. "We're just so happy for the players. A lot of people didn't believe they were going to have a season like this. But they gave their hearts all day. They've given their hearts all season.

"Coach Spurrier told them all week it's not about him. It's not about what he did at Florida. But the guys feel like they played for Coach Spurrier. They know how much it meant to him and the rest of the staff." For his part, Spurrier said he tried to keep an even keel before the game.

"I didn't look over there much," he said. "I didn't look over much in pregame warmups. I was just trying to find a player or two, here or there, with the situation to try to help our team. I didn't think of it all that much, to tell you the truth. I just called the plays for South Carolina and not look at the opponent."

BIG MISTAKE: Senior defensive end Jeremy Mincey was the 12th man on the field on South Carolina's late punt, a penalty that ended the Gators' hopes. He was apologetic afterward.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "We were supposed to be in punt safe (setting up a return). I turn around, and I see the punt block team coming on. Me and Earl Everett were still on the field. I tried to run off as fast as I could, and they called the penalty. I think I made it (off the field) in time, personally."

Mincey said he didn't hear the call that the block team was coming on.

"I had an idea we were going to go punt safe, but I didn't know we were going to go punt block."

SPECIAL-TEAMS WOES: With senior punt and kickoff returner Vernell Brown sidelined with a broken leg, the Gators struggled. Florida had one punt return for 2 yards and two kickoff returns for 51. Punter Eric Wilbur also struggled, averaging 32.3 yards and giving South Carolina good field position most of the day.

"He just didn't hit the ball very well," coach Urban Meyer said. "He wasn't pressured."

NOT USED TO RUNNING SO FAR: On the game's lone turnover, tackle Chris Tucker took a tipped ball and slowly returned it 48 yards to the Florida 5, South Carolina's longest interception return this season.

"I didn't think I was going to run that far," said Tucker, who weighs more than 300 pounds. "I think I got to about the 25-yard line, and I ran out of breath."

He said he would have dived into the end zone if needed. After the return, Spurrier told him it was a good play but he must hold the ball better.

"I had to sit out for a series and a half after that," Tucker said. "I was that tired."

FINAL WORD: "It's nothing personal. I'm the South Carolina coach now. I love the Gators, and I always will. I'm with South Carolina. This is my team now. When you're a football coach, that's the way it happens sometimes." - Spurrier.

- ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times staff writer and IAN FISHER, Times correspondent