South Carolina will play Georgia this weekend after all.
Just not on the day originally planned.
The Gamecocks’ home game against the Bulldogs, which was originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, has been moved to 2:30 p.m. Sunday because of the predicted impact of Hurricane Matthew on the state. The game will be played at Williams-Brice Stadium and broadcast by the SEC Network.
“Due to the potential impact of the hurricane on Columbia and the surrounding area, it is in the best interest of safety to play the game on Sunday rather than Saturday night,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement released by South Carolina at 9:15 p.m. “I appreciate the cooperation of the schools who worked closely to make the appropriate operational adjustments in order to accommodate this change in the schedule.”
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp announced the news on his weekly “Carolina Calls” radio show after receiving a phone call from USC athletics director Ray Tanner shortly before 8 p.m. Tanner was unavailable for comment Thursday night after the announcement.
“It’s all about the safety of our student-athletes and being very sensitive to a very catastrophic situation hitting our coast,” Muschamp said after his call-in show. “They went through everything. I had nothing to do with it other than game planning for the game. I just told them to let me know what we’re going to do.”
The Gamecocks (2-3 overall, 1-3 SEC) and the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2 SEC) each have lost two consecutive games coming into the contest.
“We will adjust to playing on Sunday,” Muschamp said. “I told our guys it’ll be a distraction if you let it be. It is what it is. I’ve been pleased with how our guys have approached it. Looking forward to playing the ’Dogs.”
Thousands of residents currently are evacuating from the state’s coastal areas, and Governor Nikki Haley warned South Carolinians not to take the storm lightly during a Thursday evening news conference.
“I am begging you at this point to understand the seriousness of this storm,” Haley said. “This is a scary storm. We really need you to evacuate. ... It is getting worse.”
Haley already had informed USC it wouldn’t be able to use any state resources (such as highway patrolmen) for the game. Richland County sheriff Leon Lott indicated to The State earlier this week he would be able to provide enough local law enforcement personnel to work the game.
South Carolina’s campus will remain closed Saturday and reopen for normal operations Sunday, according to a release issued by the school.
“We have been and continue to be in communication with the Governor’s Office and state officials, state and local law enforcement agencies including the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the National Weather Service, other local authorities and the SEC regarding potential weather issues,” the statement read. “Based on the current forecast and expected weather conditions as well as information from local law enforcement agencies, at this time, the University is confident in our ability to host the game on Sunday at Williams-Brice Stadium. We will be able to staff traffic, security and other game day operations. The safety of everyone affected by the storm and the minimization of the impact on emergency personnel were the most important factors considered in making the decision.”
The statement encouraged Gamecocks fans who didn’t need reserved hotel rooms in the area to quickly cancel those reservations so they would be available for evacuees.
“University officials are continuing to monitor the movements of Hurricane Matthew. Should weather conditions or other factors that impact game day operations change, the university will make adjustments accordingly,” the statement read.
The Florida-LSU game, which was scheduled to be played Saturday at noon in Gainesville, Fla., has been indefinitely postponed because of Hurricane Matthew.
The latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center shows Matthew turning sharply toward open water as it approaches Hilton Head Island on Saturday and heading well into the Atlantic.
Forecasters said the track could still change, but for now, Columbia and central South Carolina can expect 2 to 3 inches of rain and gusty winds Friday and Saturday, forecasters said. Sunny conditions are expected Sunday and Monday.
Staff writer Ben Breiner contributed to this report.