LEXINGTON, Ky. – There weren’t fingers being pointed around the South Carolina locker room inside Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night. That was at least part of what coach Will Muschamp said to his team after the Gamecocks lost 17-10 to Kentucky.
“In this organization, we are not going to point fingers at a particular group or a particular person,” offensive lineman Mason Zandi said of Muschamp’s postgame message. “We are going to win and lose as an organization.”
Right now, that means losing more than winning – even if the Gamecocks are 2-2 through four games – with both being anything but pretty. And it probably is for the better to avoid fingers being pointed because the Gamecocks have more question marks than certainties a third of the way into the season.
The Gamecocks struggled to run the ball against a team whose biggest weakness is stopping the run. They had more punting yards than offensive yards – 299 to 268 – and almost as many punts (8) as points (10).
A running into the punter penalty extended a drive and led to a Kentucky field goal and a block in the back took a punt return touchdown off the board. USC could not stop the run even as Kentucky ran left over and over against a box stacked with Gamecock defenders.
“Those are things we’ll continue to work through,” Muschamp said. “Kids battled hard and fought out there.”
The schedule ramps up in a week as Texas A&M comes to town looking like the most dominant SEC team outside of Tuscaloosa. Then it’s Georgia and UMass, which gave Mississippi State a run for its money Saturday, before Tennessee comes to Columbia.
So where do the Gamecocks go from here? They keep playing through a season that was always going to be about taking lumps. It isn’t going to get prettier quickly. That’s what happens when a team goes 3-9 and returns little established talent or experience. And they avoid placing blame, which only serves to fracture a locker room.
Will Muschamp inherited a situation that was always going to require patience. It is going to have the natural growing pains that go with playing a true freshman quarterback. Those growing pains are only exacerbated by inexperienced playmakers and a lack of depth that has been made worse by injuries.
But the idea of growing pains is they lead to improvement even if it is small. Tight end Hayden Hurst noted the Gamecocks put together more consistent drives against Kentucky, even if it was not noticeable from the outside, in his words.
Really, that’s a good summary of what growth will look like from South Carolina this season. It isn’t going to be in-your-face and bright and shiny.
But as the situation is not good for the Gamecocks, the best thing they can do is to avoid pointing fingers and sticking together as a team.
“That’s how we are going to go from here,” Zandi said. “We are going to look at film tomorrow morning. We are going to make corrections and move forward from there.”