South Carolina 14, Louisiana-Lafayette 7

Updated: August 31, 2003, 12:49 PM ET

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's coaches and players disagreed about why they played so flat in a 14-7 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday night.

But they all say the Gamecocks had better improve if they want to beat No. 18 Virginia next Saturday.

Coach Lou Holtz's mood turned bleaker after Saturday's game as he was peppered with questions about how ready his team could be for the Cavaliers after struggling so badly against a team expected to be an also-ran in the Sun Belt Conference.

"I'll let you know tomorrow if I don't cut my wrist tonight," Holtz said.

It seemed like the few silver linings for the Gamecocks on Saturday came with clouds too.

The defense didn't allow the Ragin' Cajun offense to score a point. Louisiana-Lafayette made it to near midfield or beyond six times, only to be stopped by a defense that forced two turnovers and three punts to go with a missed 52-yard field goal.

But the unit also allowed Louisiana-Lafayette to gain 272 yards and 12 first downs.

"They made four yards too many times," Holtz said.

Dondrial Pinkins went 16-of-34 for 185 yards and made just one mistake -- a third-quarter fumble. But he overthrew open receivers several times and was a beat late on others, allowing defenders to catch up and break up long gains. And his receivers didn't help, dropping a few well-thrown balls.

Pinkins, like many of the players, didn't share Holtz's stark opinion on South Carolina's chances next week, dismissing Saturday's performance to "first-game jitters."

The junior said the Gamecocks can beat Virginia, but can't play like they did against the Ragin' Cajuns.

At times, South Carolina's young backfield looked solid. After the second touchdown drive, Daccus Turman had a 12-yard run and a 13-yard catch and freshman Syvelle Newton ran 32 yards on a reverse.

Turman ended up South Carolina's leading rusher with just 40 yards as the Gamecocks finished with 141 yards on the ground.

"We just couldn't get the running game going," Holtz said.

Kenny Irons, who finished with 11 carries for 26 yards and a touchdown, chose to look at the bright side. "We can only get better," he said.

The 82,227 fans at a muggy Williams-Brice Stadium turned restless as the game wound on. Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle noticed how quiet the crowd was most of the night, and some scattered boos were heard in the middle of the third quarter with the game still tied at 7.

Holtz has already started playing down his team's chances against the Cavaliers, who may be without Matt Schaub, who injured his right shoulder early in Virginia's 27-0 win over Duke and never returned.

Holtz wrapped up his opening remarks after Saturday night's game saying "sometimes this can be a blessing."

The first question for Holtz was how this game could be considered a blessing.

"I'll figure it out," the coach said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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