OXFORD, Miss. — All set to slip away again, and here they come again.
South Carolina had that game lost a couple of times, after Shi Smith dropped a third-down pass and Mon Denson was stood up on fourth-and-inches, but didn’t give in. As Will Muschamp said, his team is resilient and doesn’t bag on itself, even when the circumstances look bleak, and the result is a victory and a much rosier postseason picture.
Saturday night, the Gamecocks enjoyed it. Then the final injury report came back Sunday.
Seven takeaways from USC’s win over Mississippi:
As great as they wanna be
USC had to answer every Mississippi point and did it better, scoring four more than the Rebels and winning the game. It was probably — mostly — the result of playing the worst defense in the SEC.
But they did it well, and that kind of success breeds confidence.
Plays like Bryan Edwards’ one-handed grab, then step-out for a touchdown, will have him thinking of that the next game, not the drops he had earlier in the year. USC’s offensive line will remember how fun it is to look at their running backs getting smaller and smaller as they run downfield. The confidence Jake Bentley showed in those two scoring drives to retake the lead will do wonders for him, especially when he did it without any turnovers.
The good thing is the Gamecocks are getting a lot of playing time for their backups.
The bad is the backups are nearly all that is left.
Muschamp announced Sunday that Jamyest Williams (shoulder) and Javon Charleston (foot) will have surgery this week and are out for the season. It's the second season-ending surgery for Williams in his career (and to the same shoulder) and thins a defensive back spot that was already too thin.
The Gamecocks have seven defensive backs that have played in a game to last the rest of the season. Three are true freshmen and another, Jaylin Dickerson, is a redshirt freshman who didn't play at all last year.
"Everybody else, right now to me, is day-to-day," Muschamp said. "I’ll know more Tuesday."
That appears to be good news for running backs Rico Dowdle (ankle sprain) and Ty'Son Williams (bruised hand), who each left Saturday's game. Ditto for left tackle Malik Young and defensive lineman Aaron Sterling.
This is why teams have to recruit for the future, and Muschamp always says that injuries are no excuse … but it’s getting real close to where injuries are going to have be somewhat of an excuse.
Stay on the line
Mississippi runs up nearly 600 yards of offense against three quarters of soft zone defense, then gets 18 when USC goes press man.
Obviously a team as thin as USC may not be able to afford to play man the whole game because it would further tire out an already weary defense, and it gives teams a look to exploit early and then, all USC could do was go back to a zone.
But boy, it was distressing to watch the Gamecocks give up chunk after chunk of yardage and have their defensive backs playing 8-10 yards off the receiver.
The Vaught-Hemingway Stadium playing surface looked like the final scene of “Caddyshack.” It was chilly when the game started, and there was a heavy rain two days ago — but the field was unsafe.
Not saying the field was directly responsible for the injuries, and Mississippi had guys slipping and sliding, too. But it certainly didn’t have players bouncing off the turf.
The Dead Zone
USC scored 48 points. Fourteen came from Deebo Samuel’s kick return and Edwards’ 75-yard touchdown. Another 14 were created from long plays just before the scoring play.
Some others, USC got points but not what it wanted.
First-and-goal at the 7 turned into two short runs, an incomplete and a Parker White field goal. First-and-goal at the 6 turned into a sack, a touchdown-wiping penalty, a nice catch-and-run, an incomplete and a field goal by White.
To their credit, the Gamecocks were able to find the end zone when they had to, like twice in the fourth quarter when they started at the 4 each time. Easy to look back in a win and say, “Hey, those got away, no big deal,” but those are the ones a team kicks itself about with the other result.
Gator Bowl representatives were all about USC, passing out literature and talking to Ray Tanner. It’s a perfect destination for USC, with most fans within a four-hour drive and in a nice city on a post-Christmas date. In years past, the Gamecocks have placed themselves too high or low for it.
This year, with Chattanooga and Akron still on the schedule, five wins already and not knowing what will happen at Florida or Clemson?
Whatever happens, two more wins will at least have USC accomplish the goal of every bowl season — no Shreveport or Birmingham.
That band said it best — “I got heart.”
The Gamecocks lived up to their nickname. They didn’t give up. Not with half the team bandaged, trailing 10 on the road and unable to stop the Rebels' offense.
Perhaps it took being backed into a corner, but as long as they got there …