COLUMBIA — The Gamecock Club spring tours are almost always a continuation of the coach’s call-in show during the season. A lot of fans, a lot of adoring questions usually starting with some form of “Coach, so glad you’re here … ”
Will Muschamp is experiencing something different this year on the Spurs Up Tour. First in North Augusta and again in Columbia, Muschamp is getting some rather pointed questions from South Carolina football fans.
And he's OK with that.
“I want people to be pissed off at 7-6. I’m pissed,” said Muschamp, who made a tour stop in Myrtle Beach on Wednesday, will be in Atlanta on Thursday and then in Mount Pleasant on May 14. “So I think it’s awesome, and that’s the type of fan base we have and we need to continue to have that mindset moving forward.”
Some of the questions have centered on the disastrous Belk Bowl, which still has folks scratching their heads four months later. How could a team that was putting up huge offensive numbers (including 600 yards against Clemson) be shut out for the season’s final six quarters?
The Gamecocks failed to score against a Virginia team that was giving up nearly 22 points per game. While the Cavaliers’ defense was trickier than expected, USC's offense had been clicking in the second half of the season.
Muschamp admitted he could have kicked a field goal or two just to avoid being shut out, but that wasn’t going to help win the game. The 28-0 loss left the Gamecocks flustered and wondering how they came out so flat.
“We had a really good week of preparation. Everyone was locked in,” said quarterback Jake Bentley. “We just didn’t play well when it mattered.”
A win in the Belk Bowl would have meant an 8-5 record and put a positive ending on a season plagued by injuries to key players. A victory would have given Muschamp 17 wins over the last two seasons and signaled that his program is on the right track.
The Gamecocks were embarrassed and it’s stuck through a long offseason. Muschamp has made no excuses for how badly USC played in Charlotte but he bristled at the suggestion that his players didn’t try.
“There’s a difference between not playing well and not playing hard. I’ve been coaching for over 20 years, and our guys gave effort,” he said. “We didn’t play very well. That’s my responsibility. But to sit there and just put a blanket statement that our guys didn’t care and didn’t play hard is not true.”
The Gamecocks did show up for a bowl game in 2010 (a 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham) and played as if they didn't want to be there. That performance was not replicated in the Belk Bowl, at least in terms of effort.
“We practiced two less practices than we did when we beat Michigan in the Outback Bowl,” Muschamp said. “I’ve heard some fantastic rumors that we didn’t practice enough. No. It’s very important and we didn’t play very well. That’s the bottom line.”
Muschamp has always said how much he appreciates USC’s fans, considering they were always at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2016, in his first year when the team was not good. While he might have expected more of an all-smiles experience on the booster club circuit this year, he hasn't shied away from the tough questions.
Especially when he's asked about what went wrong in Charlotte.