It will come as no surprise that Will Muschamp doesn’t believe in moral victories.
“It’s not what we want. We didn’t come here to play close,” South Carolina’s coach said Saturday after his Gamecocks fell 24-10 to No. 2 Georgia in front of 92,746 fans in Sanford Stadium.
Still, it was closer than anyone else in the SEC has come. Georgia, which clinched the SEC East championship with the victory and Kentucky’s loss later in the day, had beaten its five previous conference opponents by an average of 32 points. Missouri had come the closest to the Bulldogs (9-0 overall, 6-0 SEC) and Georgia won that game 53-28.
“The good thing is it was a hurt locker room at the end of the day,” Muschamp said. “That’s a positive thing because we invest an awful lot, we put in an awful lot, and I know our guys had belief this was going to happen today. We gave great effort. It just wasn’t quite good enough.”
That doesn’t change the fact that the Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3) deserve some credit for staying out of the trash pile that the bottom of the SEC has become. Arkansas had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Coastal Carolina on Saturday. Florida was whipped 45-16 by a Missouri team that hadn’t won a conference game before Saturday. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are each 0-5 in the conference.
Meanwhile, in Muschamp’s second season, the Gamecocks still could finish second in the SEC’s Eastern Division. South Carolina hosts the Gators on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“We competed hard,” Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. “You didn’t see anybody giving up or backing down from them. We really came out, and I thought played hard. A couple plays here and there, the game is different. A lot of stuff that could have happened for us and maybe it’s different.”
South Carolina put a lot of pressure on Bentley because its running game could manage only 43 yards, its lowest total in more than a month.
“If you look at their defense, not many teams are able to run the ball against them. We knew that coming in,” said Bentley, who finished 21-of-35 for 227 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. “We knew we had to be efficient in the pass game to give ourselves a chance.”
The Gamecocks needed to do just about everything right to give itself a chance against a Georgia team that has now won three straight in this rivalry. Instead, they missed an opportunity on a 46-yard missed field goal attempt by Parker White, couldn’t get off the field on third down (allowing the Bulldogs to convert 8-of-13 attempts) and narrowly missed what would have been a big play when a Bentley pass was tipped and intercepted instead of being a completion to a wide open Bryan Edwards late in the first half.
“We had the dig-and-go (route) at the end of the half wide open,” Muschamp said. “If Jake doesn’t get hit as he throws, it’s going to be a touchdown. Those are the plays you have to make. You want to win this game? You gotta make those plays.”
Georgia had its second-lowest scoring output of the season, behind only a 20-19 win at Notre Dame in September.
“It’s hard to pull positives out of a loss,” said tight end Hayden Hurst, who had a career-high 93 receiving yards. “It’s never fun to lose, but we hung right there with them, kind of missed our opportunities on offense, could have tackled better on defense, but it’s a group effort. We have to play better.”
Even in defeat Saturday, South Carolina gave its fans hope that it will do that in the weeks and seasons to come.
“It’s always tough losing a game, but we never get down on ourselves,” Edwards said. We are not going to let this loss beat us twice.”