South Carolina’s football team hoped to leave Charlotte on a high note, with the kind of momentum that would propel it toward what even from this distance is a daunting 2019 schedule.
Instead, the Gamecocks wandered out of their locker room and into the hallways at Bank of America Stadium with shocked looks on their faces and a different kind of motivation to spur them through the offseason. South Carolina was humbled 28-0 by an average Virginia team in the Belk Bowl, a result that almost no one, least of all the Gamecocks themselves, saw coming.
Now, they hope that the embarrassment they felt will push them toward a better 2019.
“This is just a learning lesson,” junior linebacker T.J. Brunson said “You just take this feeling that you have after a game like this and you invest it and you put in the work so it doesn’t happen again.”
Head coach Will Muschamp, who looked as surprised as his players by the result, promised that his team is “going to be fine” and “going to have a great offseason.”
“It’s extremely frustrating, but you know what? These guys will fight their (butt) off,” Muschamp said. “We have recruited the right guys, and they are talented guys, and they are going to fight their (butt) off, and that’s what’s really bright about the future. None of them are going to lay down, I’ll tell you that.”
There’s plenty to stoke South Carolina’s fire through the eight months between now and the Aug. 31, 2019 season opener against North Carolina in Bank of America Stadium. The Gamecocks had season-lows in yards (261), rushing yards (43) and time of possession (17:25). Junior quarterback Jake Bentley was 17-of-40 passing with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
“Remember this feeling, that was kind of Coach Muschamp’s message, ‘Remember how this feels and do what we’ve got to do to change that,’” Bentley said after the game.
South Carolina (7-6) ended Muschamp’s first regular season with a similarly disheartening effort, losing 56-7 to archrival Clemson. There were similar “never again” pronouncements after that loss, and the Gamecocks bounced back with a 9-4 record the next season.
Next year’s schedule won’t make a rebound easy, though. South Carolina will face Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, all of whom figure to be ranked in the nation’s top five, plus a No. 10 Florida team coming off a 41-15 bowl victory over No. 7 Michigan and a Texas A&M team lead that just signed the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class.
Muschamp remains optimistic in the face of that and despite what happened in Charlotte on Saturday.
“We have recruited well. We have a lot of good players coming back. We had a really good signing class,” he said. “Are we better from Day 1? It’s night and day. The future is extremely bright. This is a disappointing day.”
South Carolina 2019 football schedule
Aug. 31: North Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)
Sept. 7: Charleston Southern (Williams-Brice Stadium)
Sept. 14: Alabama (Williams-Brice Stadium)
Sept. 21: Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
Sept. 28: Kentucky (Williams-Brice Stadium)
Oct. 5: Open Date
Oct. 12: Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
Oct. 19: Florida (Williams-Brice Stadium)
Oct. 26: Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Nov. 2: Vanderbilt (Williams-Brice Stadium)
Nov. 9: Appalachian State (Williams-Brice Stadium)
Nov. 16: Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)
Nov. 23: Open Date
Nov. 30: Clemson (Williams-Brice Stadium)