- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Steve Spurrier plans to return to South Carolina next season, although his focus is on the team’s remaining schedule and the hope his players can shake off their disheartening season for a strong finish.

Spurrier sent the Gamecocks (4-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) off in their bye week, drawing inspiration from singer Taylor Swift’s latest hit, “Shake It Off.”

“Yeah, that’s what I told the guys,” Spurrier said.

There’s little else left for South Carolina to try after Saturday’s stunning, 45-42 overtime loss to Tennessee - the third time in its last four SEC games it led by double-digits in the fourth quarter yet collapsed.

South Carolina gave up two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to fall to Missouri, 21-20; gave up three touchdowns in the last 12 minutes to fall to Kentucky, 45-38; and were up on Tennessee 42-28 with less than five minutes left before losing the first overtime game in Williams-Brice Stadium history.

“Obviously, I like to beat teams that look like you’re supposed to beat them. I have had some losses I am not used to having, especially all together here this year,” Spurrier said.

The criticisms have fallen squarely on South Carolina’s defense. The unit was among the SEC’s best in the past three seasons led by NFL No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney. Yet without the star defensive end and four other starters, the Gamecocks are last in league yards allowed and points given up.

“Guys just got to be able to maintain focus throughout fatigue, not have any slip up and be able to execute,” said linebacker Skai Moore, the team’s second leading tackler who missed the Tennessee game with an ankle injury. “We’ve just got to finish every game.”

Much of the defensive’s struggles have come up front on the line where the Gamecocks had to replace three of four starters from last year. South Carolina is last in the SEC with just eight sacks this season after notching 25 a year ago.

“Everybody was expecting to have the exact same type group as we had last year and a Jadeveon Clowney-type kid only comes around once every 10 years or so,” defensive line coach Deke Adams said. “Losing that talent makes a big difference.”

The frustration is evident. Spurrier spent less than a minute discussing the game before walking off.

“I don’t need to take any questions,” he said as he left.

A few days later, Spurrier was in better spirits and concentrating on how to get his one-time SEC Eastern Division favorites into the postseason. It won’t be easy. After taking their final bye week, the Gamecocks must face Florida in The Swamp where they’ve won just once in 15 visits. After closing its home season against South Alabama, South Carolina plays at No. 19 Clemson, its state rival eager to end the Gamecocks five-game series win streak.

Spurrier’s only one losing season as a college head coach, going 5-6 in his first year at Duke in 1987. He was 6-6 in 2007, his third season with the Gamecocks.

Spurrier said he wouldn’t concern himself about any fixes for next season or discuss possible staff shake ups. He said his coaches have multi-year deals and are safe.

“They were the same coaches around here when we were winning,” Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks had gone 11-2 each of the previous three seasons.

Spurrier’s also not worried about the Gamecocks letting past meltdowns affect them when they return to action against Florida.

“We have picked up pretty well after Kentucky, after Missouri, after Auburn. Our guys are pretty resilient,” Spurrier said. “One thing I think you can say positive about the entire team, the guys did come to the ballpark ready to give it their best effort.”

Defensive tackle J.T. Surratt said team leaders would again insure the players are on the same page so past mistakes don’t continue to affect the Gamecocks.

“We’re not giving up,” he said. “We can still do some good things to salvage our season. So we’re going to come together.”

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