Let me take you back to a day in our recent past. October 26, 2019. It was Saturday; Gameday.
The South Carolina Gamecocks enter this day with a completely transformed perspective of their identity as a program. Four weeks prior, they finally got the monkey off their back that was the Kentucky Wildcats. Following a five year losing streak, with each loss increasingly dumbfounding for Gamecock fans, they emphatically turned the corner and dominated the Cats by a score of 24-7. With this win, an infectious energy was injected into Gamecock fans, players, and coaches alike. True Freshman QB Ryan Hilinski lead the Gamecocks to his first SEC win with notable poise and decision making skills. The defense dominated a stagnant Wildcat offense, holding them to 212 yards and an impressive 2-15 3rd down conversion efficiency. It was the type of complete performance against a quality opponent that the program had been waiting for under Muschamp, and it couldn't have come at a better time entering a bye week, as the Gamecocks had ample time to prepare for #3 Georgia.
From there, we all know what happened next. Carolina rolls into Athens as a 3 touchdown underdog and takes down a Georgia team with almost certain playoff aspirations. Israel Mukuamu has a game that corners only dream of, picking off Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm three times, including one pick six to put the Gamecocks up before halftime, vital in sealing the win for Carolina. As the ball missed the left upright on Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship's field goal attempt in second overtime, Gamecock fans everywhere could feel it: This is what we've been waiting for. This is the turning point for this program to get back on track, competing at a high level.
With confidence bursting at the seams, the Gamecocks entered the next week against another top 10 opponent: #9 Florida. Carolina fans weren't fully expecting to win this game going in, but the public consensus was they had been playing quality enough football to give the Gators a hard-fought, close game. And they did. The Gamecocks lost by a score of 38-27, with Florida being granted a couple touchdowns due to some highly questionable-at-best SEC officiating. Despite the loss, the confidence was still there that this team could hang with almost anyone in the country. Carolina enters the next week hungry for a win, against a ripe opponent suffering from a string of embarrassing losses.
That brings us to the day: October 26. Gameday.
On the first play from scrimmage, Ryan Hilinski throws a slant to Shi Smith resulting in a long 75 yard touchdown. 7-0 Cocky. Immediately, the Gamecocks have their opponent on their heels. All that confidence from the past 4 weeks of quality football was bubbling, ready to exact its will on an inferior opponent. We are going to destroy the Tennessee Volunteers.
And then, collapse happened.
The Vols' offense lead by Jarrett Guarantano gashes the Gamecock secondary on every single series. WR Jauan Jennings is knifing his way through Gamecock defenders, unable to be tackled. Hope looks toward the Gamecock offense to respond, but as the game goes on they begin to sputter out. South Carolina is throttled, losing 21-41 to an otherwise hapless Volunteer team, up to this point in the season. From here, the rest of the schedule gave way. Aside from a stumbling, close win against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks struggled to do anything on offense. 15 points in a loss to App State was the best they could muster the rest of the year. The defense was porous and uninspired. That Georgia game felt like years ago, and the program came to a screeching halt.
Now, here we are in 2020. An already unpredictable year, football aside, the SEC seems as inconsistent as ever. It could be the brutal all-SEC scheduling, but it seems anyone can beat anyone on any week. After a disappointing, mistake-prone start in week 1 and 2, the Gamecocks find themselves in a familiar position. In week three, they got the monkey off their back that was not winning a single game since early November of last year, bruising the Vanderbilt Commodores 41-7. Inspiring some confidence in a dominating performance, they then go into the next week against a top 15 team, finding a way. Three Gamecock interceptions, all critical in deciding the final outcome, headline a strong defensive showing. The offense finds its identity as a rushing team with a smart quarterback. South Carolina beats #14 Auburn, 30-22, ending a Tiger losing streak dating back to 1933. It's the second best win of Muschamp's tenure, only behind the 2019 Georgia upset.
Some of that confidence is back. Talks of a winning season emerge from fans. This could be a turning point for the program.
Whether or not you have confidence in Will Muschamp to capitalize on this momentum is besides the point. This is a second opportunity for the Gamecocks. Last year, the confidence from the Kentucky and Georgia wins got the best of our heads, but we have a shot this year to keep our nose to the grindstone and not turn into our own enemy. This is another shot to guide confident momentum forward instead of inward.
This Saturday, the Gamecocks take on another historically formidable opponent in the LSU tigers. South Carolina has only won twice in 20 meetings between these two programs, winning by only 1 point in both matchups. Despite LSU's early season struggles this year, these Tigers have a highly productive offense that will pose a serious threat to the Gamecocks if they don't show up to play early. If history tells us anything when the Gamecocks play a Tiger team, it is never easy, even when it should be. To pull off two historical Tiger wins in a row will not be an easy feat. What's more, the Gamecocks have not won three games in a row since October of 2017, when they beat lowly Arkansas, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt teams. To pull off three in a row over the likes of Auburn and LSU is extremely difficult, no matter how you slice it.
But, if Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks are going to right the ship, now is the time. Contracts and buyouts aside, it's not very often this current program builds momentum with a winning streak, including a top 15 victory. Muschamp cannot let this opportunity to elevate his program pass him by, or he may not have another one like it.