Josh Kendall

With Clemson looming, Gamecocks focus will be tested against Mocs

The South Carolina football team’s unofficial motto for the 2018 season – “Every week’s a season” – is getting its firmest test of that season this week.

The Gamecocks (5-4) face FCS Chattanooga on Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Mocs are coming off back-to-back losses to Furman and Mercer. Under any circumstances, this would be a difficult game for a coach to get his team to take very seriously, and South Carolina isn’t in normal circumstances.

The Gamecocks are coming off their most disappointing loss of the season, a 35-31 defeat at Florida in which the led by 17 points with 16 minutes remaining, and face archrival and No. 2 Clemson next week.

“Honestly, we haven’t even thought about Clemson,” South Carolina senior Zack Bailey said. “It hasn’t been something we’ve talked about. We are really focused on Chattanooga.”

That’s a variation of what players all across the SEC are saying this week. In recent years, most of the team’s in the league have taken to scheduling lesser opponents in the next-to-last game of the season as a way to be better prepared for traditional rivalry games at the end of the year.

A sampling of the week’s league slate: Citadel at Alabama, Idaho at Florida, Liberty at Auburn, UMass at Georgia and UAB at Texas A&M. The price coaches pay for that strategy is being asked annually if it’s difficult to get their players to focus on games like the one South Carolina will play.

“I don’t think so,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “I think our guys are very mature to understand that it’s about our preparation this week. I really always challenge our guys and, to me, each week as a player, as a coach, you make a decision about your effort, about your energy, about your effort, your toughness, your discipline, each week, to bring it on Tuesday. And I thought we had a very good practice, a good tempo of practice (Tuesday).”

This will be South Carolina’s first meeting with Chattanooga, while next week it will play its most bitter rivals. The Tigers lead the all-time series 69-42-4 and are on a four-game winning streak.

“Every week’s a season,” South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson, falling back on the words Muschamp gave his team to begin the year. “We never look ahead on the schedule. It’s just whoever we have next. We prepare for every team like we prepare for everybody so it doesn’t really matter.”

Muschamp is happy to hear his player regurgitating his words. He’ll be even happier if he sees them play like they believe them against the Mocs. He believes they will.

“Our guys understand, it’s not really about the opponent, and regardless of who we play, it’s about us and our preparation and how we go about our business, because it’s really our mindset each week,” Muschamp said. “We can’t control who we play or where we play or what time. At the end of the day, we can control what we do, and that’s our preparation. And that’s every week for us.”