COLUMBIA — It got vintage loud when D.J. Wonnum forced a fumble and Aaron Sterling recovered. Full “Sandstorm” zaniness was back at Williams-Brice Stadium as Rico Dowdle immediately capitalized on the turnover with a 30-yard touchdown run.
The streak is dead, five straight South Carolina losses to that basketball school.
Long live the streak, starting with a 24-7 SEC victory over Kentucky on Saturday night.
But before the Gamecocks get a chance to extend their new dominance of an old nemesis the school should give the football program a boost and shake up the sport in one bold stroke.
South Carolina should redshirt head coach Will Muschamp for the rest of the season.
Let him take a working leave away from the hectic day-to-day life of an SEC boss and return as a smarter leader for 2020.
Definition of “redshirt” when it comes to a college head coach (as drawn up on a Williams-Brice Stadium hot dog wrapper):
• Coach gets at least another season …
• But doesn’t get a contract extension …
• And learns a lot of cool new stuff
Here’s the ideal compromise solution to a sticky situation in which Muschamp’s self-proclaimed best South Carolina team (2-3 and facing a road trip to Georgia on Oct. 12) has disappointed much of Gamecock Nation.
Innovation is always a great approach for a football program stuck in non-contender mode within a rugged conference.
It’s more frugal than paying Muschamp a ridiculous $18.75 million buyout owed if he’s dismissed just after the 2019 season.
It sure beats more of the same over the last seven games of the schedule.
Note than in the last seven games against opponents from Power 5 conferences, South Carolina is 1-6, that thanks to a Kentucky conquest after which new school president Bob Caslen received a game ball.
A redshirt half-season allows Muschamp to step away and focus on building the Gamecocks in four key areas: studying college football’s most successful programs, recruiting, staff development and self-scouting.
When in doubt — and doubting is trendy these days — you have to try something different.
The South Carolina athletic department is ahead of the curve in other areas. Marketing. Game-day fan experience. Public relations.
A cutting-edge approach to football might catch on if this works.
This is a realistic alternative (as opposed to the $18.75 million alternative) to plodding through a season likely to go about as the oddsmakers project: 5-7 and ho-hum, or 6-6 and a bowl game in some chilly place without many TripAdvisor reviews.
A recruiting edge, too
Muschamp showed up at his postgame press conference late Saturday night wearing glasses. He was asked about the new look.
“Well, you know what? I’m getting old,” Muschamp said. “I can’t read anymore, especially at night. It’s been a (lousy) fall. I’ve got more gray hair than I’ve ever had.
"My wife doesn’t like hanging around losers and I’ve been losing so, I mean, it ain’t been good.”
Time best spent for Muschamp (24-20 in his fourth season in Columbia) in preparation for 2020:
1. Study other programs
Unlike Urban Meyer, Muschamp’s predecessor at Florida, Muschamp didn’t take a year off before diving back into coaching. He spent one year at Auburn as defensive coordinator before landing the South Carolina gig.
No time to fully assess what went wrong in Gainesville while observing successful programs to see what goes right.
Instead, he was thrown into the odd shadow of Steve Spurrier, tasked with replacing a mostly great legacy but with the cupboard not stocked the way The Head Ball Coach had it during his three straight 11-2 seasons and five-game win streak over Clemson.
2. Recruiting focus
Recruiting is Muschamp’s strength, but the Gamecocks still need players.
Here’s a chance for all the extra emphasis possible within NCAA rules.
3. Staff development
Do you think the simple fix-it solution is a bunch of new assistant coaches? Consider that a coach on the hot seat never gets the pick of the top rising stars.
He gets the desperately unemployed.
But a half-season with added responsibility can only make the current staff better going forward.
NFL teams take this very seriously (New England’s Bill Belichick, of course, is the master). But they have more time without a recruiting machine humming 24/7.
This would be a huge luxury for Muschamp.
Time to improvise
Former Kentucky stars, do-it-all linebacker Josh Allen (Jacksonville Jaguars) and running back Benny Snell (Pittsburgh Steelers), weren’t around Saturday night to torment the Gamecocks.
These milder Wildcats fell to 2-3 overall, 0-3 in the SEC.
I asked Muschamp if there are mentors he consults when things aren’t going well. He was quick to respond.
“Ray Tanner,” he said, citing South Carolina's athletic director. “That’s about it. That’s the only person that will talk to me this fall. And, you know what? We get along real good.”
Sure, a redshirt-the-coach move is asking Tanner to improvise. But he's made bold moves before. He turned to an untested reliever to start against favored Clemson when his South Carolina baseball team had its back to the wall at the 2010 College World Series.
Michael Roth became an instant legend, the fulcrum for two straight national championships in Omaha.
This isn’t a path to multiple College Football Playoff appearances, not unless Jackie Bradley Jr. has football eligibility left.
But it’s better than trying the same thing over and over between Kentucky wins.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.