The SEA might not be parting, but the SEC could be for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC on Saturday night by thumping Missouri 31-13 in front of 55,023 fans at Faurot Field. South Carolina was a 2.5-point underdog but was in control of the game for the final 40 minutes.
On its own, the game was a sign of progress for the Gamecocks. They were 1-10 in their past 11 road games entering the night, but now have won twice this year without playing in Williams-Brice Stadium.
The game could be even bigger for what it might mean. Next week’s opponent, Kentucky, struggled Saturday to beat Eastern Kentucky. After that, it’s a Louisiana Tech team that will be a big underdog in Williams-Brice Stadium. And then it’s a road trip to Texas A&M for a game that once looked daunting. That was before the Aggies blew a huge lead to UCLA in their opener and then barely beat Nicholls on Saturday. Then it’s Arkansas, which got whipped by TCU on Saturday, the week after that.
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And etc., etc., etc.
It’s enough for a team with middling preseason expectations to start looking ahead to all sorts of “what ifs” and “maybes” and “if justs.”
“Our guys will handle it fine,” said coach Will Muschamp, who improved to 8-7 at South Carolina. “I really believe that. I think this is a pretty grounded group.”
Quarterback Jake Bentley, who improved to 6-3 as South Carolina’s starter, acknowledged that “it’s going to be hard” not to start looking ahead but echoed his coach’s confidence in his teammates’ maturity.
“We won’t struggle with that because of this game,” Bentley said in reference to the fact that Missouri gave up 43 points to Missouri State a week ago yet led the Gamecocks 10-0 early in the second quarter Saturday. “I think we have already had a game like that to learn to not take anyone lightly, and we never do.”
Muschamp made a point in the postgame locker room to address his team’s focus, tight end Hayden Hurst said.
“As soon as we go to Monday, it’s a new week,” Hurst said.
Not that the Gamecocks would mind continuing to play the way they finished the Missouri game. In the final 43 minutes of the game, South Carolina held the Tigers to 283 yards and outscored them 31-3.
“I am really proud of our players, our staff and the job they did,” Muschamp said.