South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp is a big believer in the power of mental training and what he calls “self talk.” After the Gamecocks’ 28-20 win against Florida on Saturday and after 10 games in the 2017 season, it’s clear his players are now, too.
“I think it’s the culture within our program, something we preach about every day, ‘Man down, man up.’ ‘So what? Now what?,” Muschamp said. “Whether you have done something very good and successful, it doesn’t matter. It matters about the next day, the next hour, the next minute, or you face great adversity, you move to the next thing. We have a ‘So what? Now what?’ mentality. That’s part of who we are, and what we are moving forward.”
The Gamecocks are moving forward this season because they’ve been able to put plenty of bad behind them. South Carolina (7-3 overall, 5-3 SEC) exceeded last year’s victory total and guaranteed itself a winning record this season by beating the Gators in front of 79,727 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium. This comes after losing star wide receiver Deebo Samuel, starting linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams and starting running back Rico Dowdle to season-ending injuries, after blowing the momentum of a hot start with an ugly loss to Kentucky in Week 3, after being picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC’s Eastern Division.
“It comes from the offseason training that we do and through fall camp,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “Everything you do, you are going to be faced with adversity, and you have to find a way to get through it. ‘So what? Now what?’ the guys have really bought into that. It started off as just something you say, but through the season the guys have really adopted that mindset.”
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Bentley provided the Gamecocks with opportunities to practice that mantra Saturday, throwing three interceptions in a game for the first time. Bentley went four consecutive games without an interception from Sept. 30 to Oct. 28, but has thrown five in the past two games.
Still, South Carolina posted its highest offensive output in an SEC game under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper with 469 yards, held Florida to 2-of-15 on third down and beat the Gators for the first time since 2014.
The Gamecocks’ ‘So what? Now what?’ catchphrase came from sports psychologist Dr. Kevin Elko, Muschamp said.
“I think those things are really important as far as creating a psychological edge for your football team,” Muschamp said. “He brought it to us, and that’s something that our guys have really bought into. When you hear your players talking on the practice field and on the sideline and you hear the constant language of, ‘So what? Now what?’ and those sorts of things, that’s when you know you are reaching your football team.”
The Gamecocks never trailed against Florida, building a 21-6 lead in the second quarter and holding the Gators to seven points in the second half. The biggest play of the game might have come on a South Carolina turnover. After Bentley was picked off by Florida’s C.J. Henderson at the 25-yard line and Henderson returned the ball to South Carolina’s 1-yard line, Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst chased down Henderson and stripped the ball from him as he was attempting to dive into the end zone. South Carolina’s A.J. Turner recovered that fumble and returned it 24 yards.
“A guy not giving up on a play, that’s typical of our football team,” Muschamp said.
With two regular season games and a bowl game remaining for South Carolina, the Gamecocks already have exceeded their preseason expectations. The good news for Muschamp is that his mantra works both ways. Forgetting the adversities has served his team well all season. Now, it has to put the success behind it and get ready to play Wofford and Clemson in Williams-Brice Stadium in the next two weeks.
Saturday’s win gave the Gamecocks more SEC wins than they have had since the 2013 season and guaranteed them a second-place finish in the division.
So what? Now what?