At some point during the blur that was Saturday’s South Carolina-Ole Miss game, Gamecocks offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon asked his boss if he wanted to slow down the pace to let a battered South Carolina defense have a chance to catch its breath.
No way, Will Muschamp responded. If the Gamecocks had any chance to win in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium it was going to be in a shootout, and that’s what South Carolina eventually did, surviving Ole Miss for a 48-44 victory that featured 1,126 yards of combined offense.
“I said, ‘Keep going,’ because we weren’t stopping them and they weren’t stopping us,” Muschamp said of his conversation with McClendon. “The worst thing I could do was throw us off offensively and try to slow the game down and all of a sudden we don’t get first downs, so we stayed with tempo.”
When the dust settled, Ole Miss had 616 yards and 34 first downs, but South Carolina had the victory after erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and holding the Rebels to 16 yards on their final four possessions.
“We needed (the defense) at the end of the game,” said quarterback Jake Bentley, who had 363 passing yards, his most ever against an SEC opponent. “You can say what you want to about the score, but they played big when we needed them. We continued to battle until the clock hit triple zero.”
For all their faults, the Gamecocks (5-3 overall, 4-3 SEC) have done that all season long. Their last four games have been decided by four or fewer points, and South Carolina has won three of them.
“We have to continue to work on some things, but one thing you can’t question is the fight of our football team,” Muschamp said.
South Carolina was offered plenty of reasons to quit Saturday. Chiefly, there were the injuries. The Gamecocks’ top two running backs, Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams, starting safety Jamyest Williams, starting offensive lineman Malik Young and reserve defenders Aaron Sterling and Javon Charleston all left in the first half and were unable to return.
“I have to really give our football team credit. The resiliency and the fight this team has and they keep hanging in there regardless of the circumstance or situation,” Muschamp said. “It says a lot about their coaching staff. It says a lot about the culture of our program. Give our kids credit, they fought their butts off.”
The Rebels, who were led by quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s 379 passing yards, fell to 5-4 overall and 1-4 in the SEC. The all-time series between these two teams is now tied at eight each.
Six different Gamecocks scored on Saturday, including senior Deebo Samuel, who opened the game with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“We knew we were going to have to score a lot of points coming in,” said wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who had a career-long 75-yard catch for a touchdown. “We knew every time we got up, there was a chance they were going got get back in the game. We knew we had to score points almost every possession. That was the mentality coming into the game.”
The Gamecocks remain a flawed football team, deeply in some areas, but they now are the proud owners of a two-game winning streak for the first time this season and were able to head home from Oxford, Miss., in a good mood while trying to figure out how to fix all the various things that ail them.
“Our last three weeks, we have played better football, and we’re 2-1,” Muschamp said. “We had opportunities in all three games to win the game or lose the game. We won two of them. You want to have a special season, you win all three.”
Special has sailed on this South Carolina team, but a bowl game is now almost a certainty with games against Chattanooga and Akron remaining on the schedule. Given what could have been this season, that’s saying something.