COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the second half of Saturday’s 34-28 win over Massachusetts, South Carolina’s defense was offensive.
According to coach Will Muschamp, the repugnant play actually began when UMass connected on a 74-yard touchdown pass with 3:35 left in the first half.
South Carolina had just taken a 27-7 lead — its largest of the season — when Minutemen QB Andrew Ford found a wide-open Jalen Williams.
The coverage couldn’t have been more busted.
“You can’t get in that situation,” Muschamp said. “You’ve got a 20-point lead and you bust a coverage … but we just didn’t play very well defensively.”
His frustration may have compounded since the Gamecocks had an extra week to prepare for the Minutemen.
“A lot of things were showed in practice. The touchdown pass, at the end (UMass’ final TD of the game), we repped that — I don’t know how many times,” Muschamp said. “(If) we repped it 10, we needed to rep it more than 10. There were things, we just did not have a lot of carryover.”
That scoring strike, an 18-yard play with 4:32 left, cut South Carolina’s lead to 34-28.
“I was not very pleased with our mental intensity, defensively. To me, in my opinion, we got up 27-7 and relaxed,” Muschamp said.
Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams labeled the defense’s issues as “mental errors.”
“That’s something that we’ve definitely got to improve upon, coming in next week, playing against a very good offensive team (in Tennessee),” he said. “We know we have a lot of things to work on, but a win is a win. We’re happy about that.”
Sure, a win is the right result for South Carolina, but the matter in which it was attained is another story.
For the third time this season, the Gamecocks allowed a rusher to eclipse the 100-yard mark: Marquis Young rushed for 128 yards on 23 carries.
“Our goal is to stop the run. First of all, that’s what we come out there to do,” linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “We believe we have a good enough front to put pressure on the quarterbacks and our secondary is good at covering, so our main goal is to force the opponent to pass the ball.”
Though Ford was intercepted twice, he also completed 20 of 42 passes for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“It’s just frustrating to me, to not look at what we gave up and say, ‘That was because of a great design by the offense.’ It was more about us not executing what we needed to do, which we’ve done (this season) for the most part,” Muschamp said. “But what we have stayed away from is big plays. We have stayed away from that, for the most part, and that was disappointing.”
The Gamecocks’ pride wasn’t the only area that took a hit on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Along with safety D.J. Smith (leg), cornerbacks JaMarcus King (hand) and Rashad Fenton (hamstring) both suffered injuries in the second half.
“It looked like (Smith) hyperextended his knee on a tackle there, but he came back and finished. I think he’s going to be fine,” Muschamp said. “I think Rashad Fenton was the only person at the end of the game who could not go in and it was because of a cramp.”