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Crazy SEC East surprises South Carolina's Spurrier

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier Tuesday was rattling off teams his Gamecocks are fighting with in the Southeastern Conference's East Division — there was Georgia and Florida.

Then he glanced at a copy of the standings. His eyes opened wide as he moved down the page and found his opponent for Saturday.

"Well, heck, Vanderbilt is still in the hunt," Spurrier said.

The winner between the Gamecocks and the Commodores will be in first place in the SEC East and the only team in the division with just two losses.

And if South Carolina wants to keep its hopes alive for a first ever trip to the SEC title game, it will have to win on the road, starting at Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have lost eight SEC road games in a row, going more than two years since walking out of an opponent's stadium with a victory.

"We have a good chance if we can play," Spurrier said. "But if we play the way we've been playing sometimes, it will be difficult for us. We have to play well on the road. I don't have the answer for the road woes. We don't have any excuses."

South Carolina will likely be without running back Marcus Lattimore, who hurt his ankle early in the second half of Saturday's 31-28 loss at Kentucky. The Gamecocks were leading 28-10 when Lattimore left the game.

"Marcus is a great player. But we're a total team," said Gamecocks wide receiver Tori Gurley when asked if South Carolina could shoulder playing without its rushing leader.

But the statistics from the Kentucky game are troubling. South Carolina gained 377 yards before Lattimore's injury on its second offensive snap of the third quarter. After he was sidelined, the Gamecocks mustered just 95 yards the rest of the game.

"It seems like we were backed up, having penalties, dropped snaps, offensive interference penalty that was very questionable," Spurrier said. "Anyway, some stuff started happening and we didn't go very far."

Vanderbilt is going to practice like Lattimore is going to play, Commodores coach Robbie Caldwell said.

"He's a big powerful guy who has the speed to take it the distance. Yes, he can run over you. He can make you miss," Caldwell said. "I wouldn't begin to tell you what it would mean not to have him because we're going to prepare as if he's playing because you never know."

It's been three days since the loss to Kentucky took some of the luster from beating then-No. 1 Alabama, but Spurrier still sounded annoyed. He called out his pass defense, which allowed Wildcats quarterback Mike Hartline to throw for a career-high 349 yards.

Spurrier is also tired of hearing excuses, talking about one player who went left when the blocking scheme called for him to go right.

"'I just made a mistake,'" Spurrier recalled the player telling him. "That's an answer I've been hearing six years around here. 'Coach, I just made a mistake.' Hopefully, someday we can get out of that but we're not out of it yet. I just made a mistake."

Spurrier won his first 15 games against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores have beaten the Gamecocks in two of their last three meetings. South Carolina needed a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Vanderbilt 14-10 last season.

"Regardless of whatever their record is, we always have a tough time with Vandy," Spurrier said.

Caldwell hopes his Commodores can give South Carolina a game again, especially with first place in the division on the line.

"Everyone says the East is not very good," Caldwell said. "But there is more talent there that meets the eye."