College Sports

‘We did this for ‘Champ.’ South Carolina’s coach lands signature win

Kyle Markway had some in his ear. Chandler Farrell and Jay Urich wore theirs in their teeth. T.J. Brunson made a post-game note to run out and grab a piece before heading back to Columbia.

The famous hedges that border the field at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium were a little less full after South Carolina shocked the No. 3 Bulldogs, 20-17, in double overtime Saturday. The Gamecocks celebrated with a little trimming.

“I don’t have any hedges with me,” said Brunson, a senior linebacker, “but I might go swing some before I get on the bus.”

There’s some symbolism in this shrubbery. The place Will Muschamp called home as a player is the place that hosted his biggest win as USC’s coach.

Three weeks ago, the Gamecocks lost by 20 at Missouri and dropped to 1-3 in Muschamp’s fourth season. The team he touted as his deepest since he arrived in Columbia was under-performing — and the near-future looked bleak. Carolina next had Kentucky, a program it hadn’t beaten in a half-decade, and then Georgia, the perennial SEC East Division kings.

Sitting 1-5 at the halfway point was realistic, something that would have continued South Carolina’s worst season since the infamous 1999 campaign.

But the Gamecocks instead climbed out their hole by first conquering their UK demons in convincing fashion and then doing the unthinkable Saturday.

Muschamp, a former Georgia safety, brought in the Gamecocks as three-touchdown underdogs. Facts like UGA’s undefeated record and USC’s less-than-impressive 2-3 mark helped make the big point spread, but Muschamp’s recent history on this stage confirmed it.

He had lost 11 straight games to ranked opponents as Carolina’s coach.

He was desperate for a signature win, and after he finally got it — with a third-string quarterback taking snaps down the stretch — Muschamp’s players didn’t downplay its significance.

“I feel like we did this one for ‘Champ,” said Javon Kinlaw, USC’s monster of a senior defensive tackle who rattled Georgia’s normally poised Jake Fromm all afternoon. “Having so much backlash, so much going on, it felt good to get him that one.

“It felt really good.”

No hedge pieces accompanied Muschamp at the post-game press conference. He deflected credit, and his unique connection to this particular result.

“I couldn’t care less about Will Muschamp,” said the 48-year-old who went 2-1 as a player against South Carolina. “I’m really happy for our players. I’m happy for our staff that works its (butt) off, I’m happy for our fan base so they can enjoy the week.

“And that’s really what it’s all about. It’s never about me.”

Shortly after Rodrigo Blankenship’s 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left in the second overtime, clinching USC’s first win over a top 5 opponent since Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks won at Missouri in 2013, Muschamp could be found around midfield. South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner and president Bob Caslen were the first to greet him. Then Muschamp kissed his wife and hugged his sons.

Game No. 6 of Season No. 4. Will Muschamp has a signature win.

His Gamecocks host top-10 Florida next week.

“How are we going to handle this?” he said. “That’s going to be a question I have for our football team moving forward.”

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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