It is week 5 of the college football season and I feel exhausted.
Being a Gamecock fan is not for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not for any casual bandwagoners either.
If you represent the garnet & black, you do so knowing that it is likely to disrupt your mental and emotional wellbeing.
It was like this when my dad was growing up a fan. It was like this when I was growing up as a fan. And, sadly, it’ll probably be like this when my future children grow up.
It seems like a depressing reality, right?
But somewhere in the midst of the near perpetual disappointment, there is a strong sense of pride for the University of South Carolina, and no matter what has happened before—even an ugly loss to UNC and Mizzou—when you walk into Willy B and hear “Sand Storm” being blasted, that love resurfaces and you become intoxicated be the joy of being a Gamecock.
This is exactly what will happen this weekend as fans fill up the stadium for the first home night game in some time.
Does last week’s disappointment still sting?
Yes, it definitely does.
But as soon as we collectively walk back into the greatest stadium in college football, those woes will take a backseat, and we will be loud, wild, and full-blown crazy over OUR team.
That home field environment could give our guys the edge in what is sure to be a tough battle, but it in no way guarantees that the team will have success against the Wildcats.
We hope they do, I hope they do, but the issues we have seen for weeks are likely to resurface again.
The main thing to watch for in this one is how the team responds if those issues hit early.
Do they give up? Or do they battle back?
We will see soon enough, but in the meantime while we wait patiently, here’s five more things to watch for in Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
Where does this team really stand?
The most confusing thing about the 2019 Gamecocks is that due to their absurd levels of inconsistency, no one really has a clue what kind of team we have here.
This is a team that, on paper, has insane levels of talent at the most important positions.
It is a team that should dominate nearly anyone with a talented rushing attack. It is a team that has skilled weapons on the outside that will likely play football at the next level.
It is a team that has a dynamic player on the defensive line that will be a 1st round draft pick.
And yet, it is also a team that has not shown even a small amount of its full potential against a meaningful opponent.
Against a less talented UNC team, the Gamecocks coughed up the lead late.
Against an overpowered Alabama team, the Gamecocks looked competitive, but still lost by 4-scores.
Against a Missouri team that appeared to be at a similar talent level, the Gamecocks looked terrible and lost by 20.
With games like that, it’s hard to tell if the Gamecocks are on the verge of taking a huge next step (something that the Bama performance hinted at) or on the verge of tanking completely, and not winning another game this season (something that the Mizzou game hinted at).
Maybe that’s why there is so much frustration with the fan base.
The fans love this team, they support this team, but they have no idea what this team really is.
To make matters worse, Coach Muschamp praised this group as his best yet, so when the results look as lopsided as they have thus far, the doubt about his evaluation and coaching creeps in.
In this game against Kentucky, look to see what team we really have.
If the team makes a big statement, starts firing on all cylinders, and shows true improvement, they certainly could win, and win big.
If, however, they still look lost, this game could be another 20-point defeat, and if that were to happen, fans would know exactly what type of team this is—a 1-4 type of team.
Who is actually injured, and who is healthy?
In the Missouri game there was a lot of confusion about Hilinski’s performance.
I have been a public advocate of his early play and will continue to be: I believe that this kid is special and that we will never see another performance that bad from him again.
He’s a winner, and he will work hard to make sure that he improves each game.
But, despite what good things I know will come, last week was objectively a rough game for him.
The question though, is not why a freshman QB struggled in his first road start.
The real question is, how bad was the elbow injury, and should the game-plan have changed, if he was hurt?
The rumor going into the Mizzou game about an injury was minimized by the coaching staff. We now know that maybe it was a little more serious than previously stated.
While I think that it is unrealistic to expect a full injury report from Muschamp, as some have suggested, his inability to level with fans about injuries has caused probably more harm than good, and he is getting a reputation for downplaying things that fans consider to be serious.
This has led to some awkward issues with injury reporting as of late.
The prime example of this coming in the form of Dakereon Joyner’s injury—and subsequent missing out on the Kentucky game—being revealed not by Muschamp himself, but by Joyner’s high school coach.
Maybe it was not his place to break that news, but as a big fan of Joyner, I appreciate hearing it, especially considering that it led to it being revealed that he had been playing through this injury for some time.
So, with confusion and a lingering sense of ambiguity on the injury reporting front—as well as losing more and more players (the Kevin Harris injury really hurts)—fans may not know who is healthy and who is not until the game kicks off, and even after that, they may find out later that someone was playing hurt.
Look to see if Hilinski’s elbow is back to normal, and if he really is 100%.
Will we ever see the run game?
Dowdle is currently averaging 6.5 yards a carry. Tavien Feaster is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
In last week’s game against Missouri, the two backs had a combined for two carries in the 1st quarter, and six combined carries in the second quarter.
This is a mind numbing statistic, considering that true freshman, Ryan Hilinski, looked woefully off in his first road start.
By the time the third quarter began, the score had ballooned to 7-17, by in large, eliminating any realistic pursuit of a running attack in an attempt to catch up in the game.
As you all know, the game ended in a 34-14 loss, and fans everywhere are still scratching their heads as to why the coaching staff did not lean on the two experienced senior running backs, especially when the young signal caller was struggling so much.
Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but with rushing averages that high, moving away from the rushing attack in a game that was considered a “must-win” seems much in the same as trying to win a road game with your dominant hand tied behind your back.
In Saturday’s game look to see if the staff learned from their mistake and made the crucial change in the game plan.
If we finally see a heavy dose of running the ball, it would prove that this staff does possess the ability to make key adjustments.
If not…then we sure better hope Hilinski plays lights out, because the Gamecocks will certainly be handicapped in the game.
Can the Gamecocks send a message to Kash Daniel?
The bad boy of college football struck again during Kentucky’s game against Florida.
Buried under the pile, Kyle Trask (Florida QB) was defenseless, something that Daniel allegedly tried to take advantage of.
When looking at the video of the moment, it can clearly be seen that Daniel, who already has a reputation as a hot-head, grabs Trask’s foot and attempts to twist it.
Daniel immediately received criticism for his actions, but denied anything intentional, saying that his, “hand was stuck”.
Whether you believe his story or not, all eyes will be on every move that the senior linebacker makes during his game against Carolina.
This could mean that Daniel plays a little more conservative than normal, knowing the extra attention he will receive, or, as I expect, it could mean that he tries to make a statement of his own.
Either way, Carolina’s offense should be ready to send a message to a guy like that. And if they do, not only will the Gamecock faithful be cheering for them, but perhaps the rest of the College football world.
I personally would love to see someone like Nick Muse prove his alpha-dog status over Daniel.
Muse has the size and strength to do so, and after his statements about his mindset regarding the guy that lines up opposite of him, it appears that Muse has just as much fire as Daniel.
So, will we see someone like Muse send a clear message to the alleged dirty player?
I sure hope so.
If we win, does it change anything? If we lose, is it rock bottom?
We are in a strange place here.
If we win against Kentucky, fans will be happy to have broken a six game skid, but at the same time, they will still question whether or not beating Kentucky is truly worthy of real celebration.
If they lose, however, it is hard to see this team going any further south.
So, is a loss rock bottom?
Well, maybe so, at least to some people.
Most fans will demand accountability, and rightfully so. You can support your team and still demand a better product.
Losing a sixth time to Kentucky is inexcusable, and I personally see it as a new low for this program (and keep in mind, that is even including the loss to the Citadel), and something that should be seen as a direct influencer of change.
Whether that is staff adjustments, coaching philosophy tweaks, line-up shifts, or even something more drastic, eventually something has to give.
Blindly hoping that things just magically get better, while refusing to make tough decisions, is not a blueprint for success.
This team needs accountability on all levels.
If the Gamecocks lose here, we just may see how much accountability there really is.
With all of that being said, I’ll be ready to cheer on my Gamecocks Saturday, and I’m sure you will be too.
When the lights of Willy B shine down on the sea of garnet, we will all temporarily forget that we are sitting at a 1-3 record, and the only thing that will matter to us is sending the Wildcats home with a loss.
It’s hard to predict a game like this, since our team is so up and down this season, but I’m expecting Hilinski to bounce back in a big way.
Here’s to hoping things magically improve, here’s to snapping losing streaks one by one, and here’s to running the table and finishing strong!