Will Muschamp’s second regular season at South Carolina ended better than anybody thought it would.
That will matter at some point in the future, but Saturday night, the only thing that mattered for the Gamecocks was the stark reality that they still have miles to go to catch up to their in-state rival. No. 4 Clemson reminded South Carolina of that emphatically in the form of a 34-10 victory in front of 82,908 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I told our team afterward, we have to learn to handle the moment better, obviously,” said Muschamp, the Gamecocks coach who is now 0-2 against the Tigers. “That’s something that was addressed at the end of the game. I am extremely proud of the progress we have made in the last two seasons, and I am extremely disappointed in tonight. We need to learn from this.”
How long it will take for Gamecock fans to appreciate that the regular season ended a surprising 8-4 and probably will result in a Florida bowl game is up for debate. It could take a while to get the taste of Saturday night out of their mouths.
“Just some simple things we needed to do well in this game, and we did not,” Muschamp said. “You can’t beat yourself against a good football team, and we had too many self-inflicted issues tonight.”
Clemson has now won four straight in this rivalry, including the past two by a combined score of 90-17, but Muschamp did not leave Saturday’s game feeling the same way he did a year ago, when the Gamecocks promised “Never again” after a 56-7 loss at Clemson.
“We competed in the game,” Muschamp said. “The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, obviously. We need to play better, and we need to coach better. That starts with me, nobody else.”
The lowlights Saturday night:
▪ South Carolina averaged 3.8 yards per play and was outgained 469 to 207.
▪ The Gamecocks didn’t run a play in Clemson territory until the fourth quarter.
▪ The running game totaled 81 yards, its lowest total since the Nov. 4 Georgia game.
▪ Quarterback Jake Bentley had his second poor outing against the Tigers, finishing 16 of 29 for 126 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Muschamp never considered replacing Bentley with backup Michael Scarnecchia, the coach said.
“Jake’s our quarterback,” Muschamp said. “You have to protect a little bit better. It’s a combination of things. We had a hard time blocking them at the end of the day.”
Bentley took responsibility for his performance but also found some positive points.
“We didn’t stop competing the whole game,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t play as well as wanted to, but we’re never again going to stop competing or stop fighting until the final whistle blows, and we showed that tonight.”
South Carolina’s lone touchdown came on a 38-yard pass from Bentley to Bryan Edwards with 2:45 left in the game.
“It sucks for our seniors that we couldn’t get the win for them tonight,” Bentley said. “We’ve got one more game left. Our focus now is getting better and preparing for our bowl game, wherever it may be. There are a lot of positives from this season.”
They’re just hard to see because of the large, dark shadow Clemson is casting over the Gamecocks at the moment.
“It’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems, it’s somewhere in between,” Muschamp said. “We need to continue to recruit. It is what it is. You don’t hear me complaining about it. We’re going to continue to build the program the right way.”