COLUMBIA — It was going to be so glorious that Rudy himself would have been jealous.
Nick Muse, cleared to play the night before South Carolina’s second game of the season, could just see it. He was going to show up in his spiffy new uniform, No. 9 burnished to a gild, and not only catch half a dozen passes, but probably score on at least two of them.
The Gamecocks' tight end ran his crossing pattern and Ryan Hilinski fed him the ball, right in the gut. The defender spun him around, Muse refusing to go down as he always wanted more after the catch, and two other defenders came running, Muse cradling the football with his head down.
One of them punched at the ball. It popped out.
Fumble. Charleston Southern recovered.
It was like if Rudy had gone for that sack against Georgia Tech and been pancaked through the shamrock instead. Muse certainly didn’t feel like being carried off the field as he slunk to the sidelines, mortified that his big moment was his lowest.
“I feel like I haven’t played real well, but that’s just my opinion. My teammates want me to step up and that’s what I need to do,” Muse said. “I’m trying to stay on a level base. (Coach Will Muschamp) knows what I’m capable of so I just got to do it.”
The junior transfer from William & Mary hasn’t played badly. He has eight catches for 68 yards and nearly had a touchdown against that same Charleston Southern team (he dove for the pylon and was pushed out of bounds in mid-air).
He’s going to be a big part of USC’s offense going forward, Muschamp crediting his competitive edge and how well he did at some of the NFL Combine-esque tests he took during a workout before he arrived in Columbia.
Everybody would prefer it be happening a little faster, but at least it’s happening this year. Muse has found out that waiting is as much a part of his college career as pass-blocking.
He thought he had a good case for immediate eligibility when he transferred after last year, but he found out like many others have that the NCAA operates on its own schedule. After the Gamecocks made it very clear in their appeal that the season-opener was Aug. 31 and Muse needed an answer before then, the NCAA said nothing.
Muse was at his home in Belmont, N.C., less than 15 miles from Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, where his parents were. They were hoping to see their boy play SEC football in front of numerous family and friends.
At least they got to see a game in person (although USC lost to North Carolina, 24-20). Muse sat at home with the family dog watching his teammates play without him.
He couldn’t do anything but keep waiting, and finally his clearance came through less than a day before the Gamecocks hosted the Buccaneers. Muse got on the field and then did the worst thing he could — if he just dropped the pass, hey, it happens.
He caught it, then dropped it.
“Think he got a touchdown called back today, so I know he’s probably pretty pissed off. I’m going to call him after this,” said big brother Tanner Muse, a senior safety at Clemson. “I was just so happy for him getting into his first game over there. I know it’s really been on his mind trying to get in there and get after it.”
The Gamecocks played CSU before Clemson kicked off with Texas A&M that day, so Muse’s parents watched their younger son on a TV bolted to an RV parked outside of Clemson's Memorial Stadium. The rivalry aspect will naturally come up the week of Nov. 30 — there’s been plenty of USC-Clemson rivalry families, but this could be a case of USC tight end Nick Muse being covered by Clemson safety Tanner Muse.
For now, it’s just Nick Muse trying to be what he was brought to USC to be. In a tight end meeting room plastered with pictures of Hayden Hurst and Jared Cook, each an NFL draft pick, Muse can see his picture up there one day.
“Tight end is a big thing here. It’s a big deal,” he said. “Seeing how I could be that type of guy is very encouraging.”
If he keeps catching the ball, and holding onto it, he could be.
Joyner expected to play
"Rico Dowdle, Dakereon Joyner and Randrecous Davis all practiced today and we expect them to play Saturday," Muschamp said Tuesday. The Gamecocks play No. 3 Georgia at noon Saturday in Athens.
Joyner missed the Kentucky game with a hamstring injury and didn't practice at all during the bye week. He can give the running game another dimension and take some of the pressure off Dowdle (who injured his ankle against Kentucky but is OK) and Tavien Feaster.
Joshua Needelman contributed to this story.