South Carolina will face the nation’s No. 1 team on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium, but first the Gamecocks have to get healthy – physically and emotionally.
“I would imagine the team is pretty upset, pretty down,” interim coach Shawn Elliott said Sunday, one day after South Carolina fell 23-22 to The Citadel.
It was the Gamecocks’ first loss to an FCS team since 1990, when The Citadel won 38-35.
“How would you feel going out there and getting your tail beat by The Citadel?” Elliott said. That’s “a football team we should have been able to go out there and take care of things against. I don’t think our team is feeling too good. They shouldn’t be.”
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The game was so ugly it prompted many people to believe a fabricated Twitter post from an account posing as a media member saying Elliott had resigned. The coach said his cell phone “blew up” with texts asking if the report was true.
“Anybody that knows me should have known right from the get go I don’t quit,” Elliott said. “That’s not what I am about and not what I’ll ever be about. I was really shocked that somebody would have the time to do that. Apparently, they don’t lead any type of life.”
Elliott is 1-4 since taking over for Steve Spurrier, and the task only gets tougher this week against the No. 1 Tigers, who are 11-0 and on their way to the ACC title game and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Gamecocks don’t know who exactly will be available for that game.
Right tackle Mason Zandi (ankle) and left guard Mike Matulis (chest bruise) did not play against The Citadel. Zandi is not expected to return against Clemson, but Matulis could be ready to play. The Gamecocks started two true freshman offensive lineman against The Citadel – Blake Camper at right tackle and Zack Bailey and left guard. Wide receiver Terry Googer suffered a concussion late in The Citadel game and is questionable for the Clemson game.
Questionable also would describe freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, who did not dress out against The Citadel to Elliott’s surprise. Nunez missed several games earlier this year because of a shoulder injury and told the coaching staff Saturday morning that he did not feel healthy enough to play against the Bulldogs.
“This day and age, it just seems like people can just walk up and say, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to sit this one out,’” Elliott said. “He didn’t feel like he was well enough to get out there on the football field on Saturday. We will have to ask him if he is ready to go in there and get a few reps in maybe.”
The Gamecocks have had big plans for Nunez each of the past three weeks, but he missed a signal three weeks ago, failed to pitch the ball on a reverse call two weeks ago and then didn’t play last week.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff we would love to do with him. Like I said, he’s got a little bit of ding that he doesn’t feel comfortable playing with right now, so how much we spend our time working a package that we don’t know who is going to be able to play probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point,” Elliott said.
Despite his apparent consternation with his young quarterback and four straight losses, Elliott was upbeat Sunday, saying the Clemson game gives his team a chance to end on a high note in what has been a disappointing season.
“It’s going to be a fun week,” he said. “It’s going to give us a chance to get a lot of things off our mind. I think we’re going to have good spirits. We’re going to have a great week of practice. It’s going to be fun. We’re not going to hang our heads. We are going to move forward. We will see what we’ve got on Saturday for those guys.”