COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina's defense held Vanderbilt scoreless for three quarters, yet the Gamecocks lost 17-6. Two weeks later, Steve Spurrier's ``Cock-n-Fire'' attack put up 36 points on Arkansas yet fell again, this time when the Razorbacks plowed through Gamecock defenders.
It's enough to make an ol' ball coach throw his notes to the ground a few dozen times.
Still, Spurrier has put aside his team's three-game slide, its lost chance at a Southeastern Conference title and the team's inconsistency to think about what's ahead for the Gamecocks.
``Somebody asked me the other day 'Are you discouraged?' I said, 'No, I'm not discouraged,''' Spurrier says.
This, however, can't be what's Spurrier's used to.
The Gamecocks (6-4, 3-4) were 6-1 and sixth in the country a month ago, and talk swirled about the crafty coach sneaking back into the national championship picture.
Then came an offensive clunker against Vanderbilt (the Gamecocks managed only two field goals) and the defensive disaster at Arkansas (Darren McFadden tied an SEC mark with 321 yards of Arkansas' 541-yard rushing total). In between was a 27-24 overtime loss at Tennessee, which showcased the Gamecocks' up-and-down play.
South Carolina fell behind 21-0, its offense ineffective and defense shoddy. Then the Gamecocks found their stride after the break, taking a 24-21 lead before the Vols tied it up at the end of regulation and won with a field goal in OT.
Prospects for pulling out of the slump are dicey: The Gamecocks take on defending national champion No. 17 Florida on Saturday before closing the season against 20th-ranked Clemson.
``We don't want to get in self-destruct mode,'' linebacker Cody Wells said. ``We're still waiting for a game where our offense is great, our defense is great and we can put together a full game. We haven't done that this season yet.''
A loss to the Gators would give Spurrier his fourth-straight defeat for just the second time in his college coaching career (the other came during his debut season at Duke 20 years ago). It would also leave Spurrier with a sub-.500 mark in his beloved SEC for the second consecutive season.
``Maybe our team's not quite as strong as we hoped right now,'' Spurrier said.
Spurrier came to the campus in the fall of 2004, hopeful of turning the Gamecocks into champions. After losing to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida to end last year's SEC schedule, Spurrier upped the team goals to include a run at the title.
For half the season, Spurrier looked like he'd make good on that promise. The Gamecocks won a Thursday night showdown with then-undefeated Kentucky last month and eventually rose to sixth in the BCS standings. The wins figured to continue Oct. 20 against Vanderbilt, a team Spurrier had never lost to as a coach.
But the Commodores went in front 17-0 after 15 minutes, and little has been the same for South Carolina since.
Gamecocks center William Brown says the frustration has grown the past few weeks with the team's inconsistent play.
``I don't know why we get into holes,'' Brown said. ``Missed assignments here and there and we don't get the job done.''
What's given him pride, though, is how South Carolina has recovered the past two weeks. Besides the comeback at Tennessee, the Gamecocks cut an 18-point lead to 42-36 in the fourth quarter before falling 48-36.
``There's some fight still left in us,'' Brown said.
Spurrier's done about everything he can to jolt the Gamecocks. He pulled back his scheme at times to emphasize defense and ball control. He's changed quarterbacks twice this season, shifting from senior Blake Mitchell to freshman Chris Smelley and back to Mitchell for the stretch run.
Now, Spurrier's reminding fans how young his Gamecocks are and how much better they'll be in the future.
``Our big recruiting class was last year. It wasn't three years ago,'' he said. ``We've got a lot of players here we believe are going to be outstanding players.''

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