COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier read the quotes trickling out to the public last week.
Missouri wasn’t going to take South Carolina lightly. Not with a No. 5 ranking. Not with an undefeated record. Not at home on homecoming.
One by one, the Tigers said the right things. They weren’t thinking big picture. Their egos weren’t inflated. Just take it one game at a time, and all the clichés that go with it.
“Then one kid said, ‘We’d be foolish not to be thinking national championship,’” Spurrier remembered. “I read that quote somewhere. It’s just human nature that, when you’re undefeated or something, you have thoughts of grandeur and, ‘Man, this really could be something.’
“But really, when you look back and the week’s over and you’ve been through it, you have to have the ability to forget what has happened the week before. It’s hard to do. It’s easy to say.”
No. 14 South Carolina faces the same challenge with a 12:21 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Mississippi State at Williams-Brice Stadium. Last week, the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC East) had one of the most memorable wins in program history, a miraculous comeback at Missouri. It’s the kind of victory that squeezes raw emotion, making it difficult to avoid a hangover the next week.
But a hangover could be disastrous for a team that finds itself in the thick of the SEC East race.
“Our coaches don’t give us the opportunity to have a hangover,” linebacker T.J. Holloman said earlier this week. “They come in and say, ‘Put that game behind us.’ Mississippi State is the most important task at hand this week. So we’re not really thinking about the Missouri game anymore. Now it’s all focused on Mississippi State.”
On paper, the Bulldogs (4-3, 1-2 SEC West) are not in the same class as the Gamecocks. They’ve competed for stretches with Oklahoma State, Auburn and LSU this season — all ranked teams — without completing the upset. There are few reasons to expect a Bulldogs victory, especially after they narrowly escaped with a home win against Kentucky in their previous game.
Regardless, if USC overlooks MSU — focusing on the upcoming bye week, or maybe a Nov. 16 matchup against Florida — it could be a long day.
Already this season, the Gamecocks have struggled in this situation. Two weeks ago, following a confidence-boosting blowout at Arkansas, USC headed to Knoxville for an early kickoff against Tennessee. The Gamecocks were favored by a touchdown. Maybe they should’ve won by more.
When kickoff came, they didn’t show up.
Spurrier said he spoke with the team bluntly, addressing the need to not overlook Mississippi State.
“We have to play well if we expect to stay in the hunt for the Eastern Division,” Spurrier said. “We know where we are. We know there are four teams that still can win it. We are going to try to do our best to win this one and move on to the next one when this is over. We need to play well. We need to play a lot better than we have been playing.
“We got a lot of coaching to do. We don’t look like we know what we’re doing a lot out there. We’ve flirted with disaster.”
Those close encounters mostly came on the road. The Gamecocks played five of their first eight games this season in opposing teams’ stadiums. Now, they’ll return for the month of November, ending their final four games in Williams-Brice Stadium.
It could set up a red carpet to Atlanta, site of the SEC Championship Game. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said the team is looking forward to spending the season’s final month at home.
“That’s what most of us — all of us — came to South Carolina for, when you come on a recruiting trip to this place,” Quarles said. “It could be 2 a.m. They’re all going to be there, they’re going to be yelling. They’re going to be going crazy. There’s nothing like it. I can’t wait ‘til kickoff.”