The Bluff Road practice facility was quiet on a Monday night for the first time in three months. The usual inhabitants, the South Carolina football team, had the night off as they begin their first bye week of the season.
Having this weekend off gives the Gamecocks a chance to heal some injuries. But more importantly, it is a chance for a team on a three-game losing streak to regroup and regain some of its emotional energy.
“Eleven weeks straight of football and four games in a row of SEC football is pretty tough,” quarterback Stephen Garcia said after Saturday’s 24-14 loss to No. 1 Florida. “Playing against the competition we’ve been playing, it’s much needed. I think everybody is pretty excited about it.
“I think everybody needs the rest, the break for a little bit. We’ll come back and be ready for them.”
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Them is Clemson, USC’s streaking archrival, which figures to enter Williams-Brice Stadium as a favorite Nov. 28. But before concentrating on the Tigers, the Gamecocks (6-5) will be looking inward this week.
The injuries are relatively minor. The biggest is to co-captain defensive end Cliff Matthews, who playing much of the Florida game despite a shoulder injury. The week off should give him a chance to be close to full strength by the Clemson game.
There are other nicks and bruises, but the mental healing is the bigger factor as players take stock of their season — from a 6-2 start to their current 6-5 record.
“You lose like that and have an opportunity like that, a little time off lets your body recover a little bit,” senior receiver Moe Brown said. “Guys played with great effort, flying around, getting hit, taking hits. A week off will definitely help.
“We’ve got Clemson coming in — our final game here, my final game here at Williams-Brice. We’re definitely going to try to get ready for them.”
Even before the bye week, the coaching staff started to sense the players needed a rest. The Monday practice before the Florida game was cut short by about an hour.
The schedule was of little help to the Gamecocks this season. While most teams had their bye week at midseason, the Gamecocks’ only benefit is having two weeks to prepare for their instate rival.
Ellis Johnson, USC’s assistant head coach for defense, is among those wishing they had gotten it earlier.
“It’s kind of a dumb time to have an open date,” Johnson said. “It’s too late for the wounded warriors.”
The USC-Clemson game on Nov. 28 has been set for noon on ESPN.
Clemson leads the all-time series 65-37-4, including a 49-29-3 advantage in Columbia.