Will Muschamp wasn’t willing to go down that road.
His team had not tried to make its 24-10 loss to No. 1 Georgia a low-possession battle. That was more about Georgia’s running game and short passing converting third downs, which allowed the Bulldogs to run up 38:22 in time of possession.
But even if it wasn’t intentional, the Gamecocks found themselves playing to a perfect underdog tactic.
It’s worth remembering the Gamecocks were set to lose by more than three touchdowns by Las Vegas. They were facing a team that’s been a runaway train for weeks, the No. 1 team in the country.
And South Carolina held that group two touchdowns below its season scoring average. Some of that was the play-to-play defensive success, but a lot was playing like a team that was out-talented. The Gamecocks at least made the Bulldogs work, made them grind downfield, at times pounce on mistakes. They, in the words of linebacker Skai Moore, “fought,” and that carried weight.
In the end, Georgia had eight real possessions. South Carolina had seven or so. If a team is outmatched, going slow and trying to get some big swings can be a successful approach.
The Gamecocks didn’t get them, but they also didn’t get the doors blown off.
USC managed this despite not having a running game to control the clock. USC had 54 yards on the ground, and Muschamp said his team came in knowing it would need to rely on Jake Bentley.
USC protected him well enough that the pass rush never teed off on him, and he played relatively well against a team that kept two safeties back in coverage much of the night. And the Gamecocks got weird with a fake punt, trick play and a few other quirks in the third.
It was still a loss, but the last time the Gamecocks faced a team at Georgia’s level, South Carolina was seven touchdowns worse than Clemson. This, almost anyone can agree, was better than that.
That Gamecocks team took a big swing and absorbed a bigger counterpunch. Now USC is better, and landed into the sort of approach that allows it to hang with and, at times, push the best team in the land.