South Carolina football: For a change, Gamecocks deliver uplifting victory
Those who have followed South Carolina football in recent years know that the turn of events in the second half of Saturday’s 30-22 win over Auburn was not something that typically happens to the Garnet and Black.
In fact, already this season against Tennessee and Florida, missed opportunities were sandwiched around penalties or poor execution, particularly on offense. Dropped passes, missed tackles and questionable coaching decisions — to kick a field goal, or to go at a faster pace on offense — all fit under that umbrella.
But for a change, many of those things happened to Auburn. Tigers quarterback Bo Nix had 3 interceptions, all at seemingly the wrong times, and got into a heated disagreement with receiver Seth Williams. Auburn also all but abandoned their running game. The Gamecocks made them pay with touchdowns off all 3 turnovers, and they made a key stop defensively to ice the win.
“That was a hell of a win,” coach Will Muschamp said about his third win over a ranked opponent at South Carolina. “Auburn’s got a good team, and our guys fought their ass off. They kept hanging in there regardless of the circumstances or situation.”
During last year’s disappointing season and the 1-2 start to this one, momentum had largely escaped the Gamecocks’ grasp.
“We always talk in terms of capturing the moment to our football team as far as gaining the momentum and riding the momentum,” Muschamp said. “And that was something I thought our offense took advantage of.”
The victory was long overdue. Muschamp improved to just 3-15 against ranked teams at South Carolina. Most Gamecocks fans can rattle off at least a handful of near misses and would-be, could-have, or should-have games that went in the other direction.
“We needed a win like this against a really good football team, at home,” Muschamp said. “Defensively or offensively, to be on the field at the end. We did it on defense. But I’m really proud of our football team. They showed a lot of their resolve and fight at the adversity early in the game. Continued to fight as Auburn … I knew that program would continue to battle back, and our guys answered. Really proud of our football team. Was a hell of a win.”
The Gamecocks are often in toe-to-toe battles like cornerberback Jaycee Horn found himself in against Williams. The main problem is they don’t often come out with the upper hand. They did this time, and it carried extra weight because the Gamecocks were down two other defensive backs. Horn and the rest of the secondary, especially Israel Mukuamu, have tried to develop reputations as shutdown corners and elite defenders. Horn proved it this time.
“If there’s a better corner out there, I want to see him,” Muschamp said. “The guy’s an outstanding football player. He got 2 interceptions today, causes the other one on a tipped pass. And he and Williams battled all day. It was a great battle. We matched him up on him and felt good about where we were going to be in those situations.”
One blemish was that the Gamecocks’ SEC-leading third-down defense took a beating, as Auburn converted 7 of 16 chances.
The significance of the win, their first over Auburn since 1933, was not lost on Muschamp. Like many things, it comes back to recruiting.
“We recruit in Atlanta,” he said. “We recruit in the state of Georgia. And obviously, we do a nice job in the state of Alabama as well. And any time you’re able to beat an opponent to show where you are, that’s always important. So I think it is. It’s always critical.”