COLUMBIA, S.C. – Six weeks have come and gone since South Carolina last played in a stadium other than Williams-Brice.
And what a difference those six weeks and five games in a lengthy homestand have made.
“We just grew up as a team,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said.
The Gamecocks came home for the month of October with a 2-2 record after three September road games. They leave for Saturday’s game at Florida as a 5-4 team riding a three-game winning streak since their bye week in mid-October.
The Gamecocks changed quarterbacks, inserting freshman Jake Bentley. They found a new, healthy running back and got the key playmakers back on the edge. The results? A winning record in the homestand and a much different feeling from six weeks ago.
“It just helps our confidence,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “Any game we can go out there and perform like we have been doing the past two weeks, it just helps us get going. We were in a rut a little bit the first half. Jake comes in, we’ve sparked the offense and been able to sustain drives and put some points on the board. It’s just exciting right now.”
Will Muschamp continues to stand by his belief that the future is bright for South Carolina. Six weeks ago, those comments seemed farfetched without the backing of promising play on the field. But as the Gamecocks prepare for a big test in traveling to Muschamp’s former stomping grounds in Gainesville, the results are showing.
The biggest change came out of the bye week, when Muschamp opted to not redshirt Bentley and make him the starter. He added an energy and passing ability to an offense that ranked last in the nation with 14.3 points per game after the first month. In his three starts, South Carolina is averaging almost 30 points per game.
Rico Dowdle’s workload has increased to give him 27 carries in back-to-back games. Deebo Samuel is fresh off his first 100-yard receiving game. Bryan Edwards and K.C. Crosby have been common targets for Bentley as the offense continues to grow, while the defense has yet to allow 30 points this season.
“We were a very young team, had a lot of freshmen, had a lot of sophomores,” Allen-Williams said. “We didn’t really have an identity. Coming out of that bye week, coach Muschamp talked to us about establishing an identity. It’s a lot of perception and it’s a lot of reality. People perceived us to be a team that, ‘Oh, we just lucked up last week. We are going to luck up. We are not going to dominate games.’ We want to be a dominant team.
“We just go out here every week to try to prove to everyone in the nation that we are a team that is not going to be messed with in the next couple of years.”
The past three weeks serve notice. The Gamecocks upset then-No. 18 Tennessee two weeks ago, a win sandwiched by victories against Massachusetts and Missouri. And a team that looked like a bowl game was a distant dream is one game away from reaching bowl eligibility in Muschamp’s first year.
Muschamp credited his players and staff for continuing to work and improve after Saturday’s 31-21 win against Mizzou. His players have responded, Muschamp said before calling the win streak, “100 percent our players.”
“It’s a lot happier locker room,” Muschamp said. “You work too hard. The fun is in winning. I tell the guys all the time. You’ve gotta experience that. Our guys work extremely hard. We are going to get after it again Tuesday morning. I can’t wait. It’s going to be fun. Our guys will respond to it. They understand what’s expected. The understand the work ethic it takes. They continue to buy into what’s going on and that’s part of it.”
Now the challenge will be carrying it over into a road game, as the Gamecocks have not seen a different locker room, stadium and environment in quite some time.
But they feel good as they capped the five-game homestand with another win Saturday.
“We just came together,” linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “After the bye week, we said it is a new season. Since then, we have been undefeated. We just all bought into the program. We just all came back with a different mindset after the break. That what has really changed and turned around this program.”