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USC fires assistant after talk with rival

Another South Carolina controversy stole the headlines during preparations for Monday's Outback Bowl against Ohio State.

This time, it was a USC graduate assistant who was fired after meeting with an assistant coach for archrival Clemson, according to news reports.

Robby Wells, a graduate assistant coach the past four seasons, was dismissed last week. He denies divulging any sensitive information.

"I didn't do anything to hurt this university in any way," Wells told the Columbia State on Tuesday.

Wells said he and coach Lou Holtz met to discuss the Dec. 11 dinner meeting between Wells and Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott, Holtz's predecessor at USC.

Gamecocks spokesman Kerry Tharp confirmed Wells had been fired, but he would not say why. Holtz had no comment. Scott confirmed the dinner meeting, according to reports, but said Wells asked for help finding an NFL job. Scott said the two did not discuss game information.

Clemson defeated USC 16-14 on Nov. 18 when Aaron Hunt kicked a 25-yard field goal with seven seconds left.

Holtz made headlines earlier when he suspended leading rusher Derek Watson for unspecified rules violations on Christmas Eve, days before USC departed for Tampa.

DEE-FENSE, DEE-FENSE: Though many are focusing on South Carolina's free-wheeling spread offense, Ohio State coach John Cooper said the key to the Gamecocks' success is defense.

Cooper pointed to the statistics: USC ranked first in the Southeastern Conference by allowing an average of 15.8 points, and it was fourth in average yards allowed with 308.09.

The Gamecocks offense ranked ninth in the SEC with 23.5 points a game and sixth in total offense with an average of 367.91 yards.

"It's a simple fact that South Carolina has won a lot of games by being very, very sound on defense," Cooper said. "They cause you some headaches because they give you several alignments. They play three down linemen and wheel and deal and give you all kinds of looks. I don't know what you call it, but it works. "You start talking about the Auburns, Tennessees and Mississippi States and you're talking about some SEC teams that play great defense. Then you say South Carolina is the best in the SEC, and you're saying a heckuva lot."

NO POWERHOUSES THIS YEAR: According to Cooper, Oklahoma and Florida State are good, but not great, just like most of the Division I-A teams this season.

"I would say (Oklahoma and Florida State) are a little better than the rest of the teams, but not that much better," Cooper said. "I would put Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State and a bunch of other teams right behind those top two."

NOT OVER: Holtz is famous for handicapping his teams, but even he won't describe his surprising 7-4 Gamecocks as a team of "overachievers." Quite the contrary, Holtz insisted.

"I think that when you look at our schedule, all the Top 25 teams we played, I don't think anybody really overachieved," he said. "I think we came a lot closer to realizing our potential. I don't think this football team is close to playing its best football game yet, and I'm hopeful we'll play our best football game in this bowl."