South Carolina North Carolina football

Shi Smith needs to be a large part of the Gamecocks' game plan Saturday, and the rest of the season. File/Nell Redmond/AP

COLUMBIA — A hurricane off the coast had the capital city gray and rainy.

The mood around South Carolina’s football program was worse.

“The past is the past. We need to move on and learn from our mistakes, which we made plenty as coaches and players, and move on,” a subdued coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday. “Practice the right way, prepare the right way and have the confidence to play better the next ballgame, and that's what we plan on doing."

Rarely has there been a USC loss that felt so dreary. The three years of progress Muschamp made with the Gamecocks was undone against North Carolina last week.

Despite the shrieks for change, the research on buyout figures and the wish list of candidates, Muschamp is still the coach. A great season can still be had.

Here are four keys to beating Charleston Southern on Saturday:

Solid start for new QB

Talking Heads once sang, “Watch out, you might get what you’re after!” It might as well be played after “2001” this week, as it fits USC fans who hollered about the continued regression of quarterback Jake Bentley.

He’s gone, a lisfranc injury shelving him for at least six weeks. True freshman Ryan Hilinski is taking over.

Hilinski certainly has the talent and the know-how to be an outstanding QB, but it’s still his college debut. There will be mistakes against CSU, and throughout the season.

He may be a Steve Taneyhill, a true freshman QB who engineered a stunning season. He may be a Mikal Goodman, a true freshman QB who, um, didn't. Nobody will know until the end of the year.

Hilinski can get himself on the right path Saturday by finishing that song.

"Burnin’ down the house."

Fire the cannons

The Gamecocks played conservatively against North Carolina. Nobody would admit it, or say why (holding back for Alabama next week?), but they never seemed to grasp that they might lose until they actually did.

It’s a harsh way to learn. USC has to go all out against CSU, even with an untested QB. Throw the ball down the field, get receivers Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith involved and have offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon consistently use the up-tempo approach he favors.

Don’t worry about “balance” or percentages. The Gamecocks need to win and look good doing it.

Show discipline

Discipline. The Gamecocks have had a startling lack of it since the Florida game last year, and this time they can’t blame it on injuries.

USC’s defense continues to get bounced out of its gaps when the opponent is running the football. The team’s insistence on trying to pop the ball loose (with sparse results) is making them forget how to tackle.

A defensive coach at his core, Muschamp has elevated his approach so much he’s begun to quit stressing the building blocks. A problem that wasn’t seen in preseason camp — where the Gamecocks didn’t tackle to the ground — is a big problem now.

Cheerful ignorance

Muschamp asked the fans to help the team win. It was a simple statement to make without realizing what’s behind it.

The fans showed up in Charlotte for the Gamecocks’ last two games and watched their team humiliate itself. This week they’re being asked to show up for a noon game against an FCS opponent, the week after a soul-draining loss and in the remnants of a hurricane.

There won’t be many in the stands. The first mistake that USC makes, there will be boos. And nobody can blame them.

The Gamecocks have to play through it, and give them several things to cheer about.

Prediction

South Carolina 31, Charleston Southern 14

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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