By JAMAL THALJI, SCOTT PURKS and FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 27, 2000
TAMPA -- South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said he didn't suspend leading rusher Derek Watson on Christmas Eve, days before the Outback Bowl meeting with No. 19 Ohio State.
Watson suspended himself, Holtz said Tuesday.
"I've always said that Derek is as talented a running back as I've ever coached," Holtz said. "I hate suspending a player like this. I learned (in 1977) that the adverse publicity is not something you want to have to put the players through. But sometimes probation doesn't work anymore, and in this case, I had no choice.
"It will be up to him what he wants to make out of this situation."
Watson was suspended for violating unspecified team rules.
Holtz is not afraid to suspend big-time players. In 1977 he suspended three stars from his Arkansas team before an Orange Bowl showdown with No. 1 Oklahoma. The Razorbacks won 31-6.
When he went to South Carolina last season, Holtz dismissed leading rusher Troy Hambrick, a Lacoochee native and former Pasco High star.
The Gamecocks will replace their first 1,000-yard rusher in four years with a platoon. All-purpose back and wideout Ryan Brewer practice at the position Tuesday at the University of South Florida. He will share time at tailback with Cory Alexander and freshman Trevin Smith.
"I had to holler at him a couple of times because he went the wrong way," Holtz joked about Brewer.
Fullback Andrew Pinnock could play both positions, but he will have to adjust from the I-formation to the one-back set.
"The news came as a shock to all of us," Pinnock said of Watson's suspension. "He's a great player, and he'll be missed. But we just have to suck it up right now. We can't replace him, but we can play our game."
BRING IT ON: Ohio State linebacker Joe Cooper said the Buckeyes will be ready for whichever back replaces Watson.
"As a defense, we're ready for anyone, no matter who's at tailback," Cooper said after practice at the University of Tampa. "It doesn't matter. We're going to be ready. They're going to bring a challenge to us. We're going to bring a challenge to them. And the best team will win that day."
WARM FEELING: Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari said the warm weather should give the players a lift.
"It's refreshing," he said. "It makes it feel like you've got more energy."
GO, BUCS: South Carolina defensive back Kevin House, namesake son of the former Tampa Bay Bucs wideout and a product of Chamberlain High in Tampa, had a message for the Bucs.
"I want them to go to the Super Bowl," he said. "So if Warrick (Dunn) reads in the paper or is listening, I'd tell him to work hard and pick up the team."