David Cloninger

‘Winning now’ finally has tangible results for Gamecocks

Will Muschamp reacts after win over Tennessee: 'What a great win'

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp reacts after the win over Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium.
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South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp reacts after the win over Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Will Muschamp made it crystal clear he wasn’t content to have a lousy first season because of having no talent. No stone (such as true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley) would be left unturned if it meant winning now.

So when South Carolina had a chance to win Saturday, fortune handing them all kinds of favors, he swallowed his first choice (play it safe) and told Bentley to go win the game.

As K.C. Crosby trotted into the end zone, that choice might have saved a season that had nearly no hope of succeeding.

“You got to have some results, eventually,” Muschamp said. “You can’t keep telling a guy, ‘We’ll just keep working. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to meet, we’re going to start at 7 in the morning on Tuesday and Wednesday, we’re going to meet for an hour and a half to close to two hours and be on the practice field for two hours again, and you got me yelling at you the entire time.’ That’s not a lot of fun at the end of the day. So you got to have some results to feel the gratification.”

The Gamecocks looked to be pulling one of their familiar acts. They’d lead, be close and blow it in some kind of mystifying way. On Saturday, it appeared to be a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown immediately after they took a 10-point lead.

It looked bleaker as Tennessee began slicing USC’s run defense, but then fate smiled. On the same field where he really began his career, Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs inexplicably lost the ball on a pass attempt.

It looked like his own teammate might have hit him or he simply lost his grip on the ball, but it bounded into USC mitts and Muschamp had his decision, just like last week – milk the clock or go win the game?

He told Bentley to go win last week, and it worked. He told him again, despite top running back Rico Dowdle on the sideline and USC’s pass protection holding about as well as soup on a fork.

Yet the freshman stood in, eyed the rush and heaved a pass to where he saw the play unfolded. Crosby was running free and was so open he could have fair-caught it, so he did for the touchdown and 24-14 lead.

USC held on to win and the glaring issues – some play-calling questions, horrendous pass blocking and my Lord, those special teams – were glossed over. As Williams-Brice shook with fans starving for the success they had three years ago, they all knew – it might be rough and ugly to stomach sometimes, but the times it’s not sure taste sweet.

Muschamp grinned a sweaty and exhausted grin, but was ready to suit up and play Missouri right away. Keep it going, to give the kids he committed to a chance to build on the best USC win in quite some time.

“That locker room was a lot different locker room than we’ve had all year,” he said.

Deservedly so.

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