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Dec. 6, 2009

BLOG: First Glance: UConn Huskies

Coach Spurrier
Cliff Matthews
Patrick DiMarco

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The University of South Carolina football team has been invited to participate in the fourth annual Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 2, 2010, it was announced Sunday.

The Gamecocks (7-5, 3-5 SEC) will take on the Connecticut Huskies (7-5, 3-4 Big East) at historic Legion Field. Game time is set for 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local Birmingham time). The contest will be televised nationally on ESPN and broadcast nationally on ESPN Radio. It will be the first meeting ever on the gridiron between these two state institutions.

The 2010 Bowl will mark Carolina’s 15th bowl appearance overall. The Gamecocks are 4-10 in bowl games. After losing each of their first eight bowl contests, South Carolina has won four of its last six bowl games. While this is the Gamecocks’ first appearance in the Bowl, it’s not their first appearance in a bowl game in Birmingham. Carolina dropped a 24-14 decision to Missouri in the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl, which was also played at Legion Field.

At 7-5, the Gamecocks are bowl-eligible for the sixth straight year. It’s the first time Carolina has posted a .500 or better record in six straight seasons since they had a school-record seven straight years of .500 or better records from 1928-1934. It also marks the fourth time they will go bowling under head coach Steve Spurrier in five seasons. The Gamecocks were bowl-eligible at 6-6 in 2007 but did not receive a bowl invitation.

Coach Spurrier has directed his teams to a 7-8 bowl record during his career. He was 0-1 in bowl games while coaching at Duke, was 6-5 in bowl games as the head coach at Florida, including a 52-20 win over Florida State in the 1997 Sugar Bowl to capture the national championship, and is 1-2 in three bowl games while guiding the Gamecocks. He becomes the first coach in school history to take the Gamecocks to four bowl games in his career.

This is the 116th season of intercollegiate football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. It is the 103rd-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina owns an all-time record of 534-535-44.

In the three previous Bowls, South Florida defeated East Carolina, 24-7 in 2006, Cincinnati topped South Florida, 31-21 in 2007 and Rutgers outlasted NC State, 29-23 in 2008.

UConn’s five losses this season have been by a total of 15 points.

South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier

Opening Statement
I want to thank our students our administration and our fans for the crowd noise we had the last two home games this year. It was outstanding. I think it really helped our players and made it difficult for our opponents. To go 6-1 (at home) and have a chance in the other game against Florida, our fans did their part. We appreciate it and look forward to all the games next year. Of course we’re looking forward to the bowl game now. We’re playing Connecticut. I know they lost a bunch of close games this year. I watched them beat Notre Dame a few weeks ago. They won it in overtime. They’re a good team. Randy Edsall seems to be a bright sharp young coach. It should be a wonderful game in Birmingham. We’re looking forward to going there. Birmingham a few years ago was known as the football capital of the South. They have a tremendous history and tradition of college football in Birmingham. We’re looking forward to playing there Jan. 2. Hopefully our guys will do well with their finals and we’ll have an excellent academic semester as well.

On playing at the Bowl
zIt didn’t’ matter. We really at the end of the year you go where they tell you to go, so there’s no sense in worrying. We knew we could play a Big East team. It was either Pittsburgh, UCONN or South Florida so we knew it would be one of the three. It ended up being UCONN. You have to admire what they’ve done there. They’ve only played Division I seven or so years, so they’ve come a long way. It will be a heckuva game.

On playing a bowl game
The advantage of going to a bowl game is you get extra practices. We’ll try to take advantage of it, but the main thing is to try and beat UCONN. We played well the last game to win, but it certainly wasn’t a perfect game. We had areas here and there that hopefully we can improve on.

On UCONN dealing with the death Jasper Howard
About 15 years ago we lost a player down at Florida (when during) summer conditioning, he fell out and went into a coma. The whole team went to his funeral I think the same way UCONN did. You handle it the best you can. You always have that player’s memory with you as long as you live. I think they handled it the best way they could. I admire the way Coach Edsall and his guys handled that situation. They did everything they could to try and handle it the right way.

On the season
Seven-and-five was a pretty good year considering we were underdogs in eight of 12. We won all the ones we were supposed to and some we weren’t. Our defense played extremely well. We finished third in the conference in defense. Florida and Alabama are the only ones that finished ahead of us. (On offense) we sputtered a little bit and had too many sacks. That killed our rushing yards…Kenny Miles averaged 5.5 yards a carry so that’s not a bad average for a tailback. Seven-and-five could have been maybe one game better but it could have been two or three worse if the ball bounced the wrong way in a few games.

On improving after the Clemson win
We’re looking forward to another game and trying to play better. We’ll try to build a little momentum from last game, but we’re looking forward to practicing and trying to get better. We’re certainly not there yet. We have a long way to go around here, but hopefully we have some young players that can help us get there.

On the defense
Ellis Johnson, Lorenzo Ward, Brad Lawing and Shane Beamaer all do a super job. The players played well. It was a good year. We could have had a few more turnovers. That’s something we can get better at, but the total yards and so forth were very good.

On fans attending the bowl game
I hope the fans can get to Birmingham. That’s not a bad drive on I-20 straight through Atlanta and over. Hopefully if they like to go to bowl games they’ll go to this one just like the rest of them. I don’t think they were particular where we played. It’s a chance to follow the Gamecocks and hopefully get a bowl victory.

On coaching games in Birmingham
The first memory is from the USFL. The Birmingham Stallions were tough. They beat us more than we beat them. We used to beat the Philadelphia Stars, but Birmangham was tough. In fact we lost a playoff to them at the end of the ’84 season. The last time we were there was the SEC game of ’93. It was a very good day for the University of Florida. Alabama was coming off a 10-1 year I think. We had four scoring chances and had 28 points. They had four scoring chances and had one touchdown and 2 field goals. We beat them 28-13.

On improvement
We’re still just pushing. We’ve not achieved a whole bunch. Our basic goals this year were to win more than we lose. We always have a goal to beat Clemson at the end of the year, go to a bowl game and win a bowl game, so we’re on pace to hit most of our goals for this year’s team. We’ve got almost a month to just keep pushing and coaching and see if we can get these guys to be better players between now and the bowl game and between now and next football season.

Junior fullback Patrick DiMarco

On competing in a bowl game
It would mean a lot just for the offseason. Last year we came off a couple of tough losses at the end of the year. The win against Clemson was definitely a big motivation that we have the talent to play with anyone in the nation.

On what he knows about Connecticut
We didn’t know who we would play so we didn’t play much attention (throughout the season). I heard they’re 7-5 and lost a bunch of close games. It should be tough competition for us.

On playing against Connecticut
Football is football. You line up 11 and play against 11 guys in front of you. No matter the team, we go in there with the thought that we’ll play our butts off and (do our best) to win.

On if he can imagine losing a teammate
That’s hard to imagine. That’s just a tough experience for all those guys out there. It would be tough to overcome and they did a pretty good job of doing it. A lot of teams could shut down and say we lost a team and a good friend, but they did a good job of overcoming it.

Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews

On beating Clemson in the season finale
It’s like the Super Bowl. (The fans are) really excited about it. We had a long week of practice and were really intense. It was one of the games we really had to have. That hard week of practice transferred to the game. We had a lot of turnovers and played real well.

On playing in Birmingham
Wherever they told us to go we would have been real excited about it. It really doesn’t matter where we go or who we play.