COLUMBIA, S.C. — Bend, but for God’s sake, don’t break.
Will Muschamp’s G-rated pregame speech to his defense probably went a little something like that.
After yielding 400 yards passing and just one red zone touchdown, the message was received as South Carolina beat ECU 20-15 at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night.
Stats be damned, the Gamecocks improved their record to 2-1 (1-1 SEC). As the lights go out on his first home win as a head coach in Columbia, that’s all that matters to Muschamp, who was admittedly taken back when he saw Zay Jones’ name on the stat sheet.
“He’s a good player,” Muschamp said.
Twenty-two catches for 190 yards, that’s good.
For Muschamp, the best part of the ECU wide receivers’ stat line was the 0 in the touchdown column, closely followed by the 15 in the long column.
“That’s the key,” Muschamp said of Jones’ longest catch of the game. “If they don’t big play you, they can’t beat you, because they get in the red zone and they struggle to run the ball.
“That’s Football 101.”
With one more catch, Jones would have tied the NCAA record for receptions in a single game. Tyler Jones, the most recent of the two receivers to total 23 in a game, didn’t reach pay dirt when he tied the mark in 2008 for Eastern Michigan.
“Keep it in front,” Muschamp said. “So what? It’s frustrating. Everybody can boo me for where we’re playing, but at the end of the day, they get into the red zone and they struggle to score. That was the game plan.”
The red zone interceptions by JaMarcus King and Chris Lammons certainly helped, so did the forced fumble by Antoine Wilder at the Gamecocks 5-yard line. D.J. Smith’s recovery in the end zone was equally as important as the other three plays.
“I see a defense that doesn’t give up,” said left tackle Mason Zandi, who helped pave the way for 117 yards rushing by South Carolina. “We feed off them, just like they feed of us. It was amazing to see them go out there — (ECU) would drive the ball, but they just could not cross that pylon, which the defense did a heck of a job today.”
Even on paper, Muschamp said, it was a heck of a job. According to his metrics, allowing 5.7 yards per play over 91 plays ain’t too shabby.
“When you start looking at stats now, in football, it’s not about yards, it’s about yards per play,” Muschamp said. “Because with all the tempo teams you play, you’re going to play 91 snaps in a game and you give up 5.7 yards per play against an offense like that, that’s an outstanding job.
“We had 5.9. I’m going to round it up to 6.0.”
He added, “When you hold an offense like (ECU), that’s a really good offense – just watch them every Saturday afternoon on the little ticker when it runs and see their scores, and you hold an offense like that to 15 points a game is an outstanding job.”
Three forced turnovers inside their own 10-yard line makes it an easier sell for LB T.J. Holloman and the rest of the Gamecocks defense.
“When it got to the red zone, when it counted, we just had to buckle down,” Holloman said. “We had to lock into our assignment, lock into our keys and just execute.”