South Carolina’s football players are breaking one of the sport’s longest-standing, unwritten rules, but they can hardly help it.
The 24-hour rule is common football player vernacular for the idea that players and teams get one day to feel good about a victory or bad about a loss before fully shifting their attention to the next game, but nearly 72 hours after the Gamecocks blew a 17-point lead and lost 35-31 to Florida, several South Carolina players still can’t shake it.
“I think it gnaws at us. It gnaws at everybody,” senior offensive lineman Zack Bailey said. “It was a game we thought we had and were going good in. I don’t know what happened in the end, so it gnaws at us and kind of fuels us as well.”
There was plenty at stake for the Gamecocks last week in Gainesville, Fla., chiefly the ability to finish with a winning record in the SEC. When they led the Gators by 17 with 16 minutes remaining, they appeared on their way to doing just that. Instead, Florida scored 21 straight points to end the game.
Bailey was still thinking about it when he took the practice field Tuesday morning.
“It’s something that burrs inside of you so when you go to practice, it might mean a little more, might be more focus on the details,” he said.
The Gamecocks (5-4) take on Chattanooga on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium. When South Carolina’s players met with the media Tuesday to discuss that game, more of the questions swirled around the last one.
“It definitely hurts,” junior middle linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “You feel like you’re in a good spot to win the game and then you don’t win it. After the game you are reflecting on everything that went wrong. Even if it’s something that seems small, it always seems really big after the game. You look at yourself and see what you could have done better to help your team win and see that you maybe didn’t finish on a few plays. You just think about all the work you put into it and wish you had brought it that day the whole time.”
Head coach Will Muschamp is willing to forgive his players for lingering on the Florida game if it increases the attention to detail this week.
“There’s always teachable moments and it’s certainly easier to teach, unfortunately, after a very difficult loss,” he said. “Our guys understand that those games are probably going to come down to three or four or five plays in the fourth quarter that determine the game. We talk about it all the time and we’ve been on the winning side of that a bunch. As coaches, we’ve got to put our guys in positions to be successful and players have got to execute in those times. So, I think, more than anything that’s what (Bailey) is referring to.”
South Carolina is 12-5 in games decided by seven or fewer points during Muschamp’s tenure.
“I think that as quarterback more than maybe any other position you have to let go of a win or a loss very quickly,” Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. “We had to be on to Chattanooga on Sunday. I am past the Florida game and really just focused on Chattanooga.”