South Carolina seeking to build on win in season opener
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) New coach Will Muschamp needed something positive early to reinforce the lessons he has been drilling into his young South Carolina team since December. He got it: a win.
After the second-half comeback against Vanderbilt to start the season, Muschamp hopes the Gamecocks can build on that success heading to Mississippi State this week.
''Anytime you have positives results, it makes it easier to have some belief in what you're trying to do,'' Muschamp said Tuesday. ''Positive feedback, regardless of whether it's football, the business world or whatever you're doing, you've got to have something positive happen for you.''
The challenge this time around for Muschamp and his staff is keeping his team's edge heading into a more daunting contest. Yes, South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) finished a disappointing 3-9 a year ago. And yes, the Gamecocks entered this season without its biggest offensive and defensive playmakers from a year ago receiver Pharoh Cooper now in the NFL and linebacker Skai Moore injured.
Still, the Gamecocks had enough to for their eighth win in a row over Vanderbilt.
South Carolina rallied from 10-0 down behind quarterback Perry Orth and kicker Elliott Fry made a career-best 55-yard field goal in the closing seconds for a 13-10 win.
Mississippi State, who stunningly lost at home to South Alabama 21-20 last week, will not be lacking for incentive to open SEC play in a much stronger fashion.
''We'll face a different team, obviously, than we'll see on film,'' Muschamp said. ''I told our players that when we met'' on Monday.
There's a better chance the players paid more attention after the Vanderbilt win.
Fry, a senior, said the work put in during the offseason was as intense as any in his football career. He added that new coaches demanded a lot.
''Getting the first SEC road win is huge for us,'' Fry said. ''Talk about the buy-in factor, it ups it even more for us.''
The first game may have clarified the lingering issue at quarterback, too.
Orth, a senior, completed just one pass for 12 yards in the opening half as he split time with freshman Brandon McIlwain as the Gamecocks went scoreless. Orth played the entire second half, completing 11 of 14 for 140 yards in the final two quarters in South Carolina's rally.
''Our confidence is going up,'' Orth said. ''But Coach has been preaching that we want this one as bad as we wanted the first one and about as bad as (Mississippi State) wants this one. We're going to go out there and prepare like we did in the offseason and last week and hopefully come out with the W.''
Orth will start again at Mississippi State, although Muschamp said it's likely McIlwain will play, too.
McIlwain looked dynamic at times, yet had a crucial fumble in the second quarter after the Gamecocks drove inside Vandy's 20-yard line.
''Both these guys will help us succeed,'' Muschamp said.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen had no specific area to pinpoint for the South Alabama loss. ''There were issues everywhere that we need to get fixed,'' he said.
Muschamp's biggest issue is keeping the Gamecocks level headed, although he was giddy on the field at Vanderbilt last week when the game ended. He congratulated players, he said, for the effort they gave to hang tough when it would've been easy to fold.
The Gamecocks got the weekend off and Muschamp reminded them to stay involved and hungry - a message that's easier to swallow after an opening-week win.
''In our profession, the results of winning is what we look for. You've got to be able to see the fruits of your labor,'' he said. ''The young guys, especially, they need that as much as anything.''
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