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October 8, 2013

Spurrier defends Clowney in latest saga





When All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney informed Steve Spurrier moments before kickoff last Saturday night that he wasn't suiting up because of pain in the rib cage area, the exact nature or severity of the injury wasn't known.

However, that didn't stop the negative national media avalanche from cascading downward on Clowney and the Gamecocks.

Tired of continuous commentaries questioning Clowney's desire to play college football or his commitment level to the Gamecocks, Spurrier sought to set the record straight on Tuesday during his weekly press conference, blaming himself and others employed by USC for the way the over-publicized matter was handled.

"Jadeveon has a muscle strain near his rib area that caused him to miss the game last week against Kentucky," Spurrier said. "He was in pain and it was diagnosed later (on Sunday). Obviously, we all handled it poorly. All of us did. The proper procedure and protocol is when a player is hurt, he tells the trainer and the team doctor, 'I can't go. This thing is hurt, there's too much pain,' or whatever. The trainer tells me, 'He's out, he's not playing.' It's as simple as that. But we all didn't do that. It caused some confusion. We didn't handle it well, the whole group of us."

Clowney is scheduled to talk to the media after Tuesday afternoon's practice.

The Clowney saga promises to overshadow Saturday afternoon's SEC contest at Arkansas (12:21 p.m., SEC TV), which begins a three-game conference road swing for the Gamecocks due to the S.C. State Fair setting up shop at the Fairgrounds adjacent to Williams-Brice Stadium.

Right now, Clowney is listed as questionable for the game and has been getting treatment from the USC medical staff twice a day on the injury throughout the week leading up to the trip to Fayetteville.

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"He's trying to do everything he can to get ready to play," Spurrier said. "We'll know later in the week (if he will play at Arkansas)."

Spurrier insisted Clowney's contributions to the USC program both on and off the field shouldn't be ignored in the flood of opinions washing over the mainstream media in the past couple of days.

"If he never plays another snap here, we all should be thankful and appreciate that he came to South Carolina," Spurrier said. "We've won 26 games, two 11-and-2 years, the greatest seasons we've had in the history of this school in 120 years. So none of us need to be upset at Jadeveon, none of us. He's played his part tremendously. I'm all for Jadeveon and his future and when he's ready to play, we're going to put him out there."

Spurrier pointed to the thousands of No. 7 jerseys being worn by Gamecock fans as a sign of the huge impact Clowney has had on the USC program since signing with USC in February 2011.

"All those number 7 jerseys and all the money he's made for our school, he's been a tremendous, important player," Spurrier said. "Every Gamecock, including me, the coaches and everybody out there, we need to be appreciative that he chose South Carolina. He could have gone anywhere in the country and he's a big reason we've had those seasons.

"We'll move on about our business and be thankful and appreciative Jadeveon Clowney is a South Carolina Gamecock."

Spurrier's post-Kentucky game comment about Clowney "not playing if he doesn't want to" jumpstarted the media firestorm, but he clarified the comment on Tuesday, saying it applied to every player on the USC roster.

"When I make a comment about a player doesn't have to play if he doesn't want to, that really goes to any player - Connor Shaw, Bruce Ellington - and for some reason any player doesn't want to play, as coaches we don't say you have to play," Spurrier said. "That is something coaches don't do. This was a situation that he had something that was really bothering him and hopefully it will be taken care of real soon.

"All the information is out now. We just didn't handle the information correctly, all of us. He was hurt and he couldn't play. Had it been handled better all the way around, I don't think we would have had such a turmoil about it."

Instead of Clowney, Spurrier is focused on snapping USC's three-game losing streak in Fayetteville, and an overall three-game conference road losing streak dating back to last season (LSU, Florida and Georgia).

Arkansas (3-3 overall, 0-2 in SEC) will be fighting to stay above the .500 mark on Homecoming Weekend in Fayetteville. Since both teams are run-oriented teams, the outcome could be decided by which team has the most success on the ground.

"Arkansas is a good team that has had some fourth quarter struggles a little bit like we have, except we have managed to hang on and win some of our fourth quarter struggles," Spurrier said. "They are going to try to run it down your throat. Bret Bielema, their coach, he is a hard-nosed, tough guy that believes in running the ball, controlling the clock and that is what they are going to try to do."

USC and Arkansas have virtually identical rushing numbers. The Razorbacks are fourth in the SEC in rushing offense at 216 yards per game, while the Gamecocks are a tick behind in fifth at 215.4 ypg.

Historically, USC has struggled to gain traction in the trenches against Arkansas' massive offensive line.

"It will be a big challenge to see if we can line up and take their best shot," Spurrier said. "That is the way they play football. It is going to be important for us to run the ball the way we're capable and hopefully continue running and mixing in passes. They've always scored a bunch of points on us out there. Hopefully, we'll bring a defense. If we don't bring a defense, I don't know if we can score 40 or so out there."

"If you go play well and bring your defense with you, you've got a chance to win on the road."

Spurrier hinted at personnel changes on defense following the Kentucky game, and continued with that theme on Tuesday.

"We'll have some different defensive guys out there," Spurrier said. "I don't think we'll announce it until later in the week or so. Yeah, we've got to try some new guys. That's coaching. The first guy is not playing well, give the next guy a chance. How can he do much worse? So, we're going to experiment around."

NOTES:

-- For the second time in three weeks, USC will kick off a road game around noon. Spurrier prefers the early start at Arkansas: "Hopefully that will help us a little bit. We've been pretty decent in the noon games, so we're kind of glad it has been going like that." The road game at Tennessee on Oct. 19 is also scheduled for a noon kickoff.

-- Spurrier said sophomore middle linebacker Kaiwan Lewis has an infection in his leg and was taken to the hospital and given antibiotics. "I don't know how he will be by Thursday or so, but he had to get some antibiotics in him," Spurrier said.

-- Spurrier on increased playing time for freshman Pharoh Cooper: "He needs to get out there more. We think Pharoh is a good player. He's just now getting ready to go so he should be out there more."

-- Cornerback Victor Hampton missed Monday's practice with a quad injury, but is expected to be "all right" and ready to play on Saturday.

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