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Holtz’s Uphill Climb With Gamecocks

September 17, 1999

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ After only two weeks, South Carolina coach Lou Holtz sees the same problems as last year’s team, which went 1-10 under former coach Brad Scott and set a school record for losses.

Now the 0-2 Gamecocks have 12 straight defeats _ second in college football behind Holtz’s alma mater, Kent, with 15 in a row. And things could get worse in Holtz’s first home game Saturday. East Carolina (2-0) is playing its best ball in a decade.

``This week’s going to be critical,″ Holtz said. ``I really expected us to play better in all facets.″

Holtz sold his message of hope to South Carolina players and fans tired of recent failure.

But in week three, there are only questions: Where’s the better play? The improved competitiveness? The wins?

Holtz said those are great questions. ``We’ve got to become competitive now,″ he said.

There were promising moments in road losses to North Carolina State and Georgia, but not enough.

Holtz’s goals were ambitious.

``The very least you should expect during four years here is one SEC championship and one national championship,″ Holtz said at a student rally last spring.

The future is now, he said. The future, however, so far looks much like the past.

``You let your mind think about it being the same as last year,″ linebacker John Abraham said. ``But we’ve worked too hard to let it go again.″

East Carolina has a history of spoiling expected Gamecocks victories. In 1994, South Carolina had won four straight games _ three against Southeastern Conference opponents _ when it lost 56-42 to the Pirates. East Carolina did it again in 1996, ruining South Carolina’s 2-0 start with a 23-7 win.

``Most of our team doesn’t know what it is to play down in Columbia,″ East Carolina coach Steve Logan said. ``It probably won’t mean a thing.″

Holtz’s first season has been hampered by injuries. Safety Arturo Freeman, who was out last year with injuries, ruptured his spleen and had it removed after a freak scrimmage hit. He’ll play for the first time since the 1997 season on Saturday.

Phillip Jones and Kevin Rivers, Holtz’s building blocks for a young offensive line, have been hurt. Rivers is two weeks away from returning.

Starting center Scott Browne is out for the year with a knee injury and converted defender Larrell Johnson will step in.

Quarterback Phil Petty has completed about a third of his passes with three interceptions and one touchdown.

``We need a win this week, no matter who our opponent is,″ Petty said.

East Carolina’s defense has held opponents to less than 65 yards rushing a game. The Gamecocks are averaging only about 35 more yards on the ground.

``I cannot think of a situation on offense that’s worse than what we have right now,″ Holtz said. ``No confidence, no success.

``You come here with a mission, you come here and you understood that this would not be easy.″

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