It hasn’t been an easy season. No reason to believe it was going to be an easy game.
South Carolina beat Western Carolina 44-31 Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in a game that was harder than it should have been. When you’re rebuilding, things are often harder than they ought to be.
“It was an ugly game in a lot of respects, but offensively, I think we played extremely well,” coach Will Muschamp said.
The offense carried the team, gaining a season-high 588 yards and topping 40 points for the first time since the 2014 season. The ugly parts were the defense and the special teams.
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“Defensively, we are still a work in progress,” Muschamp said. “We have to be mentally dialed in all the time and be really right with what we are doing defensively. It showed in the first half.”
The Catamounts became the first team this season to score more than 30 points on the Gamecocks.
“I think we came out a little flat,” linebacker Jonathan Walton said. “I think once we buckled down and figured out what we were going to do with their offense and the formations that they were giving us, we played a lot better, but overall I definitely think we could have played a lot better.”
The two highest point totals surrendered by South Carolina this season have come Saturday against Western Carolina and Oct. 22 against UMass.
“It’s just coming out flat, playing down to the level of the competition,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “We just didn’t play Gamecock football today. If we don’t play our style of defense, stuff like this happens, but we’re going to move on. We’re bowl eligible.”
They are that, earning their sixth win and leaving the stadium appropriately happy about it. They also left with a renewed understanding of where they are. A Gamecock fan base rightfully buoyed by a late season three-game winning streak and the promise shown by freshman quarterback Jake Bentley has been reminded the past two weeks of the program’s limitations. Last week, the Florida team that will represent the SEC East in the conference’s title game outclassed the Gamecocks. This week, the Gamecocks couldn’t outclass a team that finished 1-7 in the Southern Conference.
“We were just beating ourselves,” linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “We didn’t come and tackle like we planned to tackle. We didn’t do the little things right and it showed.”
This game was scheduled as a breather before the end-of-season rivalry game against Clemson. Instead, the few fans who remained were breathing a big, and frosty, sigh of relief. An announced crowd of 76,650 came out for the game, but no more than 40,000 stayed for the end.
When your program is rolling, these are the games you win by showing up. When your program is rebuilding, you have to grind them out.
The Gamecocks allowed 236 rushing yards, their third-worst effort this season.
They allowed a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 240 kickoff return yards in total.
They allowed the Spearman Robinson 105 yards on four catches, and they couldn’t put away the Catamounts until Elliott Fry hit a 32-yard field goal with 6:23 in the game to put them ahead by their final margin.
“You are either coaching it or letting it happen so obviously we have allowed it to happen. We have not done a good enough job of coaching,” Muschamp said. “We have to be on point with what we do. We don’t have a high margin for error.”