Before South Carolina got to preparing for its final game of the season, the Gamecocks got some things off their chest about the last one.
“Oh yeah, we talked about it,” interim head coach Shawn Elliott said.
“It” was Saturday’s 23-22 loss to The Citadel, the Gamecocks first loss to an FCS team in 25 years. It was an ominous harbinger coming seven days before South Carolina (3-8) hosts the No. 1 team in FBS, archrival Clemson (11-0).
“We faced the facts exactly what had happened, what's been going on and what we got to do to move forward. Our mood of our football team is very good if you can imagine that to happen,” Elliott said.
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After Elliott addressed his team, the players met by themselves, he said.
“When they came out of that meeting, when you can kind of look at an individual and tell if they've got it or not, and I think everyone got it,” Elliott said.
Senior offensive lineman Mike Matulis declined to say what he and his teammates discussed in that meeting.
“That was actually a personal thing between us as players and we’re going to try to keep it that way,” he said. “We put last week behind us. We’re not going to a bowl game, but this is our bowl game.”
Elliott took the team to the student-led “Tiger Burn” on at the intramural fields on campus Monday night, where a 30-foot tiger constructed by a student mechanical engineering group was set aflame following a pep rally.
“I don't think a single person on our staff, I don't think a single player on our team had ever been to it,” Elliott said. “They probably had heard a little bit about it, but when they showed up and there were a few thousand people there to see that tiger burn, you could see our players really appreciate it. Then as we were leaving, you could see our fans really appreciated us being there, even with the record that it is. We tried to make a point that it was important to us to be involved in our school and University and to make this the very best week we could.”
Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper and Matulis spoke to the crowd at the Tiger Burn.
“To me it was crazy,” senior offensive lineman Brandon Shell said. “I didn’t know that many people showed up for something like that. Just to see all the school spirit that they have and that they still love us as a team, that was very exciting.”
Elliott will not sell his team on a “shock the world” storyline this week even though the Gamecocks are 17-point underdogs, he said.
“We just have to get better, we really have to worry about what we can control and try to do the very best we can against a good football team,” he said. “To look at those and say, ‘Let’s go shock the world,’ it’s almost like saying you guys don’t have a chance to go out and win this football game. You don’t sell that message to your team.”
Elliott saw “a different look” from his players in Monday’s practice than he saw last week during preparation for The Citadel, he said.
“They understand what's at stake, I mean they really do,” he said. “There was more of a focused look and energy into what we had to prepare for this week and the No. 1 team in the nation in Clemson. The mentality seemed to be right on point.”
Tigers vs. Gamecocks
Who: Clemson (11-0) at South Carolina (3-8)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Line: Clemson by 17.5
Don’t lose hope
South Carolina has beaten Clemson seven times in seasons the Gamecocks have finished the season with a losing record. The Gamecocks have only beaten the Tigers once in seasons where South Carolina finished with a losing record and Clemson finished with a winning record. (Records indicated are final records)
1992 – 5-6 Gamecocks beat the 5-6 Tigers 24-13 in Clemson
1970 – 4-6-1 Gamecocks beat the 3-8 Tigers 38-32 in Clemson
1968 – 4-6 Gamecocks beat the 4-5 Tigers 7-3 in Clemson
1964 – 3-5-2 Gamecocks beat the 3-7 Tigers 7-3 in Clemson
1961 – 4-6 Gamecocks beat the 5-5 Tigers 21-14 in Columbia
1949 – 4-6 Gamecocks beat the 4-4-2 Tigers 27-13 in Columbia
1896 – 1-3 Gamecocks beat the 2-1 Tigers 12-6 in Columbia