- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said his team will “lick our wounds” and work to improve during a bye week after two disappointing collapses have the one-time Southeastern Conference East favorites all but out of the title chase.

The Gamecocks (3-3, 2-3 SEC) held double-digit leads in the fourth quarters of their past two games, yet lost to division rivals Missouri (21-20) and Kentucky (45-38). The defeats knocked South Carolina out of the Top 25 for the first time since the start of 2010.

“It’s been a struggle for me, I can assure you of that,” Spurrier said on his call-in show Wednesday night.

The off week gives Spurrier and his coaching staff the chance to identify and correct mistakes before returning to the field against FCS opponent Furman on Oct. 18.

The Gamecocks’ head coach told fans this week he’s embarrassed by the team’s showing.

“We’ll sort of lick our wounds and hopefully play better the last half of the season,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, we’ll play a little bit better and come out with a good season.

South Carolina had come off three consecutive 11-2 seasons - the Gamecocks had only one 10-win season over its first 117 years of football - finished a program-best No. 4 in last year’s final rankings and expected even more entering this fall.

South Carolina was selected as East favorites at SEC media days this summer and Spurrier didn’t shy away from those lofty goals. Problems, though, were evident from the start when top-10 South Carolina was routed by Texas A&M; 52-28 in its opener.

The low point was certainly the past two weeks against Missouri and Kentucky.

The Gamecocks led 20-7 with seven minutes left when the Tigers rallied for two touchdowns. Last Saturday, South Carolina held a 38-24 lead with 11 minutes to go at Kentucky before the Wildcats’ scored three times to win.

South Carolina’s defense, anchored by No. 1 NFL pick Jadeveon Clowney the last three seasons, yielded 122 yards on Kentucky’s first two TD drives during the rally. The game-winner came on a tipped ball interception deep in South Carolina territory.

“We need to work on some things fundamentally,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “If we’re making mental mistakes, obviously, as coaches we’re doing too much. We’ve got to make it simple.”

The Gamecocks stand at or near the bottom of most SEC defensive categories, including dead last in allowing 441 yards a game.

Ward said he’ll move from the sideline to the press box when South Carolina returns to the field against FCS opponent Furman on Oct. 18 to better see what adjustments to make. The Gamecocks practiced tackling this week, something almost unheard of during the season under Spurrier, because of the breakdowns the last two weeks.

There also will likely be changes in defensive personnel to shore up weak spots, particularly in the secondary.

“It’s a revolving door at a lot of positions,” Ward said.

Quarterback Dylan Thompson was among several upperclassmen who led a players’ meeting designed to keep the team from splintering. “We had to get our team together so we wouldn’t fall apart and get better from here,” receiver Pharoh Cooper said.

The losing has clearly bothered Spurrier, the school’s all-time leader in coaching victories who’s earned his share of criticism for the defeats. He acknowledged the mistake of not trying a two-point conversion against Missouri that would’ve given the Gamecocks a 14-point lead instead of 13 on their final touchdown.

And then there’s the late play calling. Thompson threw six incompletions in South Carolina’s final eight snaps to thwart a comeback against Missouri.

Thompson was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter at Kentucky. Tailback Mike Davis, who ran for 183 yards and three TDs last week, carried just once on the Gamecocks’ final three series.

“I was a pretty good coach a couple years ago,” said Spurrier, who’ll turn 70 in April. “I’m not a very good coach now.”

Spurrier has significantly dialed down his hopes for these Gamecocks, realizing his dreams of an SEC title are all but gone.

“We’re strugglers, but we do have three wins,” he said. “We need to, hopefully, get six or seven wins, and that would be a good season for this team.”

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