Josh Kendall

USC should savor third straight win, worry about Dogs another day

Save the “We Want UGA” signs.

South Carolina set up an SEC East showdown of sorts with the Bulldogs by beating Vanderbilt 34-27 on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) are now all alone in second place in their division behind only undefeated and third-ranked Georgia.

There remains the chance that South Carolina could win the division title. It would take beating the Bulldogs and then having Auburn do the same the following week while the Gamecocks also beat Florida. In short, there are a lot of moving parts, too many to worry about at the moment.

All that South Carolina fans should concern themselves with right now is enjoying the next six days. For six days, the Gamecocks can revel in a three-game SEC winning streak, their first since 2013. For six days, they can enjoy having more than three conference wins in a season, another thing that hasn’t happened since 2013. For six days, they can enjoy the fact that the program is ahead of schedule in coach Will Muschamp’s second season, having already matched the overall win total from a season ago with five games left to play.

There will be plenty of time to worry about the Bulldogs, and there seems to be plenty to worry about. Georgia is 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the SEC and has won its five conference games by an average of 32 points. It beat Florida 42-7 on Saturday. The Gamecocks will be heavy underdogs when the line is released on Sunday, but that’s a concern for next Saturday.

This Saturday night was about enjoying winning again.

“Our culture has definitely changed,” said sophomore running back A.J. Turner, who had a career-high 121 rushing yards against the Commodores. “Coach Muschamp has done a great job of helping us be able to do that. We changed the way we practiced. We changed a lot of things. I feel like it’s all working out now.”

The Gamecocks’ resurgence has been helped by outside factors, mostly the dissolution of much of the SEC around it. South Carolina’s three-game conference win streak has come against teams with a combined 1-13 SEC record. The conference that once thumped its chest about being the deepest in the nation is deeply flawed, but that’s not the Gamecocks’ problem.

South Carolina’s only job is to make sure it doesn’t get sucked down into the mire with so many other league teams, and the last three weeks have done that. The Gamecocks are not a program at the moment that should nitpick a winning streak.

“We go into every game expecting to win,” said quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for 174 yards and had the first two rushing touchdowns of his career. “The confidence level this year is so much higher throughout our team. We know that we have a lot more games to play and bigger goals as well.”

Georgia stands in the way of one of those goals.

“At the end of the day, our guys know it’s an important ball game,” Muschamp said. “There’s no doubt they understand it’s a big ball game against a very good team. I don’t think me standing up in front of our team and saying it is going to make any difference.”

South Carolina will try to treat it like “just another game,” defensive lineman Dante Sawyer said.

“We are going to come out and prepare like we always do. It’s going to be a dogfight,” Sawyer said, before laughing and realizing his unintentional play on the Bulldogs’ nickname.

The Gamecocks all were in a good mood Saturday night, as they should have been. The next test will be here soon enough.