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COLUMBIA -- Frustrating.
That’s the most common term used around the South Carolina football team this season, as it stumbled to a 4-8 finish with Saturday’s 38-3 loss to rival and No. 3 Clemson.
For the first time under head coach Will Muschamp, the Gamecocks are not bowl eligible, so their season will end in November.
“It’s a frustrating day to end a frustrating year,” Muschamp said to open his postgame press conference. “The latter half of the season we’ve struggled offensively, but I don’t think we’re far off. We’ve got a good, young, talented roster, and we’ve got some good players in our program. I’m frustrated for them. We’ve got to make some changes moving forward.”
Despite the frustration, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. While a rough season, USC was very young with a number of freshmen and sophomores seeing time this year, including true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski. Despite all of their struggles, Muschamp and the players think they are close to breaking through.
“The effort we’ve had throughout the entire season, especially the latter part of the season when things weren’t going very well,” was Muschamp’s response when asked why he thinks his team is close. “The good, young talent that we’ve recruited, the good, young talent that we have coming. I see a lot of positives at some key positions that we’re going to be very good. I feel very confident in that.”
Junior wide receiver Shi Smith thinks the offense in particular is on the brink. Despite the Gamecocks scoring just one touchdown in the final three games, Smith thinks this young core has learned from the growing pains.
“(We can be) as good as we want to be,” said Smith. “It’s definitely close. Two or three plays here and it’s a different game.”
Senior offensive lineman Donnell Stanley was emotional after the game talking about playing his final game with USC after six years with the program. He was thankful for all of his experiences and knows that the very young offensive line he’s leaving behind will learn from this tough season and grow once he’s gone.
“From the start of this pregame and seeing all the pregame and stuff,” Stanley responded when asked when It started in that this was his final game as a Gamecock. “I know that no matter where I go, I’m still welcome here, but as far as playing here, it hurts to end this way.
“I believe that we have a good program, we’ve just got to put some pieces together,” continued Stanley. “We’ve got some guys that can make some plays, and we’ve got guys that are growing up too. I’m looking forward to seeing those young guys play. I have all the faith in the world in this program.”
USC will lose some key skill players. Wide receiver Bryan Edwards will leave with his name scattered in the Gamecock record books. South Carolina will also lose both of their primary running backs in Rico Dowdle and graduate transfer Tavien Feaster. Dowdle still sees hope for the running back group in particular after he graduates.
“I see a bright future in them,” said Dowdle. “I know they have a good one in Marshawn (Lloyd), who’s a good recruit, a 5-star recruit, and you’ve still got Kevin (Harris) and Deshaun (Fenwick that will be returning. I think they’ve got a bright future and I’m looking forward to watching them.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Gamecocks will mainly have two big losses in linebacker T.J. Brunson and a potential first-round pick in the National Football League draft in defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Both of them are optimistic that the young players around them are ready to take big steps once they leave.
“They’re going to hold it down, man. They’ll know what they need to do when the time comes; they’re just young right now,” said Kinlaw. “Look at me when I was young; I didn’t play as fast as I do now. It just takes time, they need time to develop, but them needing to play early is better. Honestly, me having to play early, it helped me a lot.”
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