David Cloninger

Gamecocks must continue preaching patience

dcloninger@thestate.com

Part of the Great Big Book of Coachspeak is to never talk about the game ahead. It’s always the next game, or 12 one-game seasons, in college football.

Will Muschamp hasn’t done it this season, and not just because it’s in a coach’s contract to never disobey the Great Big Book. It’s because he truly doesn’t know what will show up on his sideline Saturday to Saturday. “That’s for you guys to talk about,” he’d say when asked about the schedule and bowl eligibility, so we did.

Now that the toughest part of the season is over, we can final-stamp it. Looking at it over the summer, South Carolina would have been fortunate to get through the first four games (with three SEC games on the road) at 2-2. After the Gamecocks’ 17-10 loss to Kentucky on Saturday, they’re 2-2.

Not great, but not destitute.

Muschamp has preached patience since he signed on, and it was up to the USC faithful to listen. The fact is, with no proven playmakers, the Gamecocks are handcuffed with what they can do offensively. If they can’t stay on the field half the game, the defense has to pick that up, and it gets worn out (as we saw Saturday).

Freshmen playmakers are freshmen. Kentucky, despite its problems earlier this year, had veteran guys to lean on and when the game got tight, they did what sank USC last year and the year before. I thought that would happen, which is why I picked the Wildcats to win.

But we’ve seen USC hang in three games now where it could have won the game. Twice, it did win the game.

So now they come home for five straight games, and a bye week thrown in. They can get a whole lot healthier and better in that time and perhaps get a few home-field calls. As for the wins, well, there are Western Carolina and UMass (although the Minutemen certainly figured out their offense against a Mississippi State team that plowed under USC) and then there’s Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee (I still think the Volunteers aren’t as good as their record). Florida on the road in November certainly doesn’t look unbeatable.

So getting to a bowl game is possible (notice I didn’t say “likely”). And frankly, if Muschamp does get USC to the Duck Commander Birmingham Everybody Gets a Trophy Postseason Spectacular, he has performed a miracle.

Yes, it was disappointing that USC lost to a team that lost to Southern Miss and barely survived New Mexico State. But not unexpected (again, hard to challenge a woeful secondary with a quarterback who hasn’t mastered the downfield pass) and not debilitating.

Muschamp didn’t promise an immediate or even three-year turnaround. As he said in Starkville, they’re very limited on what they can do.

So he’ll keep trying week-to-week to get into what won two of the first four games.

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