South Carolina football: Victory welcome relief for Gamecocks
It was difficult to choose which unit had the more impressive night for South Carolina, the running game or the defense, in Saturday’s 24-7 win over Kentucky. But one thing was clear: Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp was happy to let off some steam in what he described as a difficult fall.
During a 1-3 start, South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner went on a local radio station to offer Muschamp a vote of confidence as the fan base grew increasingly restless, with many calling for Muschamp’s firing. Tanner was on hand Thursday at Muschamp’s weekly radio show, too.
“(He’s) the only one who will talk to me,” Muschamp said after Saturday’s game when asked about who he looks to as a mentor. “We get along great.”
In an emotional locker room after the game, Muschamp presented the game ball to new South Carolina President Robert Caslen, who oversaw his first SEC win in that role.
“When we’re able to run the ball like that, and when we stop the run like that, we’re a damn hard team to beat,” Muschamp told his players.
The much-discussed five-game losing streak to Kentucky is over, and Muschamp appeared ready to release some tension as he called it a “commanding win.” The win also stopped a six-game losing streak against Power 5 opponents. He was asked about reading glasses he wore during the game.
“You know what? I’m getting old. I can’t see as well, especially at night,” he said. “It’s been a (expletive) fall. I’ve got more gray hair than I’ve ever had. My wife doesn’t like hanging around with losers and we’ve been losing so it ain’t been good.”
The Gamecocks weren’t losers Saturday night, and it was largely because of the smothering defense bottling up UK’s stagnant offense. The Gamecocks’ last shutout was 2008 against NC State, 34-0, and the last SEC shutout was 2006 against Mississippi State, 15-0, and South Carolina nearly ended those droughts. There have been plenty of quality defenders to come through the program in that time, so it’s an impressive feat.
LB Ernest Jones, who had an interception, said bottling up UK’s “Wild Cat” attack gives the defense tremendous confidence because that’s what caused the Gamecocks problems the last five years.
Added DL D.J. Wonnum, “Going out here and dominating tonight, it was a great feeling defensively.”
The one lowlight of the night was the news from Muschamp that OL Dylan Wonnum, who suffered an ankle injury against Missouri and didn’t play Saturday, would be out three to four weeks. Muschamp said he was surprised it’s not broken.
The running game was a tremendous contrast to a week ago at Missouri when the Gamecocks had 16 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Against UK they had 247 yards on 46 carries, a 5.4 yard average.
“We needed a win, there’s no doubt about it,” Muschamp said. “Really proud of our guys, handling a lot of negativity and continuing to push through it, it was a dominating performance. Ran the ball offensively, stopped the run on defense. Did the things we needed to do to win the game.”
The tough schedule remains, with a road trip to Georgia on Oct. 12 up next that could look similar to the way the Gamecocks played against Alabama. In the 7 remaining games, the Gamecocks will be underdogs in at least 3 of them.
When asked about the 46 running plays called versus 15 passing plays, Muschamp said the coaching staff will do whatever it takes to win. However, it’s difficult to not think the team found its identity in running the ball with two quality running backs, and the best two-man rushing output (two 100-yard rushers) in an SEC game since 2001.
It is certainly something to build on for South Carolina.