By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
CHARLOTTE — South Carolina’s performance in the Belk Bowl was so discouraging that head coach Will Muschamp apologized to Gamecock Nation after the 28-0 loss to Virginia.
“I’m disappointed with the performance,” he said. “I appreciate our fan base. We sold all of our allotment of tickets and we didn’t put on a good show. That’s on me. I apologize to them. … I wish we’d played better … again that’s on me.”
Virginia dominated nearly every phase of the game, compiling 413 yards of total offense and holding South Carolina’s explosive offense to a season-low 261 yards. The Gamecocks were shut out for the first time since 2006.
The Cavaliers put together four long scoring drives, dominating time of possession 42:35 to 17:25. They were 11 of 17 on third down, while South Carolina was just 2 of 13 on third down and 2 of 5 on fourth down.
Still, the Gamecocks trailed just 14-0 at the half. Muschamp said the game turned when South Carolina could not score early in the second half and Virginia went ahead 21-0.
“When it was 21-0, I knew it was going to be tough sledding against a good defensive football team,” he said.
The inability to contain Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins and stop the Cavaliers on third down were the keys to the game, he said. Perkins threw for 208 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 81 yards.
“That’s really the tell-tale of the game,” he said. “He stays on the field with his legs. … Not getting him to stay in the pocket enough, that did us in defensively as the game rolled along.”
The Gamecocks had several opportunities to score but came up short on key plays and turned the ball over twice. Trailing 7-0, they missed a field goal early in the second quarter and saw another scoring opportunity vanish when quarterback Jake Bentley was sacked on fourth-and-1 on the final play of the first half.
Bentley, who completed just 17 of 39 passes for 218 yards, threw an incompletion in the end zone on fourth-and-11 in the second half and tossed two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Muschamp said the Gamecocks gambled on fourth down after falling behind 21-0.
“We’re certainly not pleased with no points, but there were some situations where we could have put some points on the board but I didn’t think that was going to help us win the ballgame,” he said.
Though some of his players said the team had the “wrong mindset” at the start of the game, Muschamp said he felt his team was ready to play.
“I felt like we were ready to go. It was a 14-0 game at halftime. We moved the ball offensively in the first half. I never felt that way at all,” he said. “The game swung, to me, in the third quarter on the three-and-out on offense. The ball is at the 40-yard-line going in and we had two critical situations on third downs to make stops and we don’t make stops.”
South Carolina played without leading receiver Deebo Samuel and several starters on defense. Muschamp, who is 22-17 in his three years at South Carolina, believes those setbacks hurt his team, but vowed it will bounce back next season.
“I think we had some setbacks injury-wise,” he said. “I counted six true freshmen on the field multiple times defensively. We recruited well. We’ve got a lot of good players coming back. We had a really good signing class in December. We’re going to add about 13 of those guys to our roster in January.
“So, are we better than day one? It’s night and day. It’s 100 percent better, and the future is extremely bright. This is just a disappointing day.”