The last time South Carolina players were this excited for a home game was Sept. 16 headed into the Kentucky game. The Gamecocks were 2-0 and preparing for their first home game of the season, and Williams-Brice Stadium was rocking.
“Everybody was just super juiced,” quarterback Jake Bentley remembered. “Guys were at the door of the locker room eight to 10 minutes before kickoff.”
That’s earlier than usual, and it seemed at the time to Bentley that that might not be a great thing. Now, South Carolina (8-3) is preparing to face No. 4 Clemson (10-1) on Saturday night at 7:30, and Gamecocks senior D.J. Smith expects the atmosphere to be Kentucky “times three.”
That could be a problem for South Carolina if it doesn’t handle it the right way. Kentucky beat the Gamecocks 23-13 in a game that started the team’s worst three-game stretch of the season.
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As coach Will Muschamp pointed out, the Kentucky game started very well for South Carolina. The Gamecocks scored 13 seconds into the game on a Deebo Samuel 68-yard scoring pass and forced a turnover on each of Kentucky’s first two drives, but South Carolina couldn’t maintain their emotion or level of play, and the Wildcats scored 23 of the final 29 points.
Bentley hopes he and his teammates are more “even keeled” despite facing their most emotional game of the season against the Tigers.
“We are going to have to play the four quarters,” he said. “Saving it for kickoff is going to be a challenge, but we’re going to be prepared for it. That’s the big thing we learned from the Kentucky game.”
It will be a difficult lesson to put into practice for a game that defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth predicted would be “epic.”
“I’m sure it’ll be crazy,” offensive lineman Cory Helms said. “I’m sure it’s going to be wild.”
The Gamecocks just have to make sure they don’t get too wild, too soon.
“We need to have a good gradual emotional buildup until the game,” Muschamp said. “I think we will.”