COLUMBIA — Late Saturday night, less than an hour after South Carolina’s crucial win against Florida, Bruce Ellington’s gaffe could be excused.
The junior receiver had caught his team’s lone touchdown in a 19-14 win against the Gators. The Gamecocks were now one Missouri loss from reaching the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
Ellington was asked about the challenge of focusing on his team’s upcoming game against Coastal Carolina instead of Missouri’s trip to Mississippi. His answer revealed just how much the larger context consumed his thoughts.
“It’s going to be pretty difficult because we know we’re leaning on them,” Ellington said. “But we’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do against Citadel and Clemson.”
Jadeveon Clowney sat to Ellington’s right in the postgame media room. Without skipping a beat, the star defensive end offered his teammate some help.
“Not Citadel,” Clowney whispered. “Coastal.”
“My bad,” Ellington said, smiling sheepishly.
It was an innocent mistake, but the moment exposed USC’s challenge this week. On Saturday, USC played a game against Florida that was no more important than Auburn beating Georgia. Next Saturday, the most important game for USC will be played in Oxford, Miss., where Ole Miss hosts Missouri.
That’s the reality when USC hosts Coastal Carolina for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Williams-Brice Stadium. Of course, coach Steve Spurrier will try to prevent his team from seeing things that way. His job is to get players ready to play their game, not cheerlead another.
“We approach this week the same way we approach the Florida game, the Georgia game, Tennessee, Missouri. Same way,” Spurrier said Sunday on his weekly teleconference. “We do the same stuff every week. We emphasize the game that’s coming up the best we can. We’re trying to win No. 9, we’re trying to keep our home streak going.
“We have a lot to worry about this week without worrying about the one next week. We’ve got two instate schools, and they both have the same record right now, I think.”
Coastal Carolina is actually 10-1, one more win than USC’s rival 100 miles north. And yet, there’s no way to compare the Big South-leading Chanticleers to Clemson.
This week won’t have the same feel the next promises. South Carolina sits firmly in the calm before the storm — in between the end of SEC play and its biggest rival. Just don’t expect Spurrier to admit it.
The Gamecocks have won seven of their past eight games, including three in a row. They have 16 straight home wins, a new program record. Spurrier wants to continue both streaks this week. He won’t take any chances on an upset.
Spurrier said every healthy player will play Saturday. There will be no treating Coastal Carolina like a bye week. His team’s approach is the same as Florida. The same as Georgia. Same as Tennessee.
“This is a huge game. It counts the same as the Clemson game on our record,” Spurrier said. “Y’all did know that, didn’t you? If we win, we’re 9-2. If we lose, we’re 8-3. Same as if we beat Clemson, we’ll be whatever, you know. So we’re going to try to get us a win this week if we can. It’s not going to be easy. It’s probably going to be very difficult.”