On the replay, the steps South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn took to draw the untimely penalty show it wasn’t just in the game’s flow.
His teammates had stuffed Kentucky’s Benny Snell on a key third down. He wasn’t that close to the pile. But he went over, squatted down to get his face close and said something to the powerful tailback.
Moments later, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was pulling him away and defensive end Keir Thomas gave him a shove in the face mask to hammer home that he’d messed up. The flag had already come out, putting the Wildcats on USC’s 20 with a first down, wiping away the stop.
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In many ways, this illustrates part of the reason Horn is the kind of player Muschamp wants on his team.
“Jaycee’s a freshman,” Muschamp said. “He made a mistake. At the end of the day, he’s really excited about playing for South Carolina, and we step over the line sometimes. I would rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘giddy-up.’ And with Jaycee Horn, I have to say that a lot, which is an awesome thing to be able to say. I wish we had more, to be honest with you. Because really good players I’ve been around, you had to say that a lot, a lot. You had to pull them back. You had to pull them off the field at times.”
Having those guys is fun for him. He followed by saying former Texas safety and five-time NFL All-Pro Earl Thomas was that kind of player as well.
This revelation came after the Gamecocks committed 11 penalties in the loss in Lexington. Muschamp was quick to point out there were 11 from Kentucky as well and said he couldn’t tolerate those kinds of miscues.
But he also took the long view, saying balancing that intensity and discipline isn’t a long-term issue.
“We were the least penalized team in the Southeastern Conference a year ago,” Muschamp said. “And we played really intense football. And when you self-inflict wounds such as unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, we’re not going to tolerate it.
“Unfortunately, we’re very thin in some spots. So I have a hard time subbing. I don’t want to penalize our entire football team because a guy makes a really poor decision. But it’s being addressed.”
At the moment, the Gamecocks’ defensive backfield and linebackers are stretched thin by a few injuries and some ineffectiveness at the safety position.
The players, starting with Jake Bentley after the game, said the discipline issues need to be corrected by them. Offensive lineman Zack Bailey added the older players need to hold the younger ones accountable.
As those energetic young bucks play with exuberance, especially in the face of adversity, there’s a simple message passed along.
“Just telling them, don’t be selfish,” Bailey said. “Don’t get down on themselves. A lot of that stuff happens when you’re down in points and you think it’s all going bad and you’re trying to make a play, and then you get wrapped up in emotions.”