With the nation’s toughest strength of schedule entering the season, the South Carolina football team’s margin for error was always going to be razor thin in 2019.
Three weeks in, it’s gotten smaller still, and the Gamecocks know the pressure is on over these next two weekends to right the ship — or potentially face a losing record for the second time in 15 years.
Senior center Donell Stanley acknowledged as much Saturday in the aftermath of USC’s 47-23 loss to Alabama that dropped Carolina’s record to 1-2 a quarter of the way through the regular season.
“Moving forward,” Stanley said, “we’re going to be desperate, we’re going to be hungry. We need wins.”
It starts this week with a road matchup against SEC East rival Missouri, then continues Sept. 28 at home against Kentucky. Both represent challenging but winnable games for Muschamp’s team that are crucial the Gamecocks’ bowl chances. They are also key to one of Muschamp’s favorite mantras/goals — Beat the East and win the state.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” redshirt freshman quarterback Dakereon Joyner said when asked if the Gamecocks are desperate. “Like coach said, everything in our team goals are still out there; beating the East and winning the state. And this is our first SEC East game, especially on the road. We want to send the seniors out right, start it off well and then win the East.”
And what does a desperate team look like?
“A dangerous team, and you’ll see what it looks like Saturday,” Joyner said.
Muschamp has seen that in training, describing “really good work for a Tuesday practice,” and after this past Saturday’s game in the locker room, where the Gamecocks refused to take away any moral victories from a loss to the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
“I think we played a really good team on Saturday, I think our guys played their (butt) off. Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays that we needed to make to win the game,” Muschamp said. “So when you’re in the locker room when the game’s over, and you see the guys obviously hurting, that’s not a good thing, but it’s a good thing. And it bothers them.
“We have really good leadership, we have a very good culture in this organization. And the leadership’s in a really good spot. Meeting with those guys on Sunday and talking about where we are and being realistic and understanding it’s not where we want to be and it’s not where we thought we were going to be, but this is where we are right now. So understand where we are and what we’ve got to do to crawl out of it, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
If the Gamecocks manage one win over the next two weeks, they’ll need four more wins to go to a bowl and have seven games to get there, including matchups with ranked opponents Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Clemson. That would require them to pull at least one upset while still beating Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Appalachian State. Win both of these next two games, and the path becomes easier.
So even though it’s still early in the season, sophomore cornerback Jaycee Horn doesn’t see this game against Missouri as a chance to reset the narrative on the season. There’s no time for that.
“I mean, it’s for the East. We can’t lose. It’s not really us trying to make a statement. We’re desperate right now, we need a win. Things didn’t start how we wanted to, so we got to come out fast and physical and play good these next two weeks,” Horn said.
Who: South Carolina at Missouri
When: 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21
Where: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri
TV: SEC Network Alternate
Line: Missouri by 9.5