South Carolina football: No explanation needed, Gamecocks got what the doctor ordered
The hot seat talk can take a day or two off. There was no need to go chapter and verse about clock management and play-calling this week. Coach Will Muschamp didn’t have to point to weaknesses on the offensive line, dropped passes or missed tackles.
This was just a win, plain and simple. On that dreary, rain-soaked Saturday in Nashville in front of the tightest restrictions in the SEC for crowds, this 41-7 victory over Vanderbilt was like a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup for the symptoms of Gamecocks football.
The Gamecocks have Auburn up next. But for now, they wanted to enjoy their first win of the season, which happened to be their widest margin of victory in an SEC game since 2013.
Running back Kevin Harris looked every bit the budding star that players and coaches believe he is with a huge game, highlighted by an 88-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. That was the longest by a Gamecock since Bobby Wallace’s 88-yard run against Middle Tennessee State in 2006.
“We actually did a really good job of changing some things up in the second quarter, and then again in the second half,” Muschamp said of the running game. “We changed some things up that we actually didn’t bring into the game, and Mike (Bobo) and his offensive staff did a really good job of adding some runs at halftime, based on some stuff they were doing to us, which was different. When you’re able to run the ball (289) yards, that’s a heck of a day no matter who you’re playing against.”
Adjusting to running the ball and being more productive is something that Muschamp has said Bobo wished he did earlier in the Week 1 loss to Tennessee. Muschamp said they hadn’t practiced some of those runs much, so he was impressed how successful they proved to be.
Another highlight was the defense holding Vanderbilt to just 1-for-11 on third-down conversions. Muschamp said being able to rush only four defenders and win one-on-on matchups are keys to third downs.
“When you’re able to play coverage and rush four and get the quarterback off the spot, then that helps you be really good in the pass game,” Muschamp said.
The Gamecocks, particularly on defense, appeared to play more angry, as if they had a chip on their shoulder. It proved to be a morale booster as they tried to get back on track following disappointing losses to Tennessee and Florida. The Gamecocks were without starting defensive lineman Keir Thomas, who didn’t make the trip for undisclosed reasons.
“We had a chip on our shoulder because we were 0-2, and one of our brothers (Thomas) was down today and we had to do it for him,” linebacker Ernest Jones said. “He’s a big part of our defense. We had to go do it for him. With No. 5 being out, we tried to put that on our shoulders and carry him with us. This whole time, we have known that the mistakes we have made definitely are on us. Today, we came out here and wanted to show how we could play and the good things we could do instead of the bad.”
While the weather conditions were difficult, Muschamp made several references to dealing with things behind closed doors and managing players being available. He has said he won’t discuss COVID-19 issues in terms of players being available, but he made a reference to apparently having had similar conversations with the other SEC coaches he has faced. Muschamp said he’s proud of the players for handling all the changes that the pandemic has brought.
“Right now, any win helps, regardless of where it is,” Muschamp said. “Our guys stuck together. These guys work hard. I’ve been really proud of them, how they have handled this, what we’ve been through. Each week’s another great opportunity for us, and that’s the way we’re going to look at it. Enjoy our victory today and start on a really good Auburn team on Sunday, and that’s the way we’ll approach things. But any win is good right now.”