COLUMBIA — With his team’s first losing season since 2003 assured and a game against a lower division opponent coming up, interim South Carolina coach Shawn Elliott said Tuesday there is a simple motivation for the Gamecocks against The Citadel this weekend.
“How many times have we went out there and celebrated a victory?” Elliott said. “So any opportunity to go out there and face a football team and get a win is going to feel good at this point.”
At first glance, the Gamecocks (3-7) would appear to have a good shot at beating Football Championship Subdivision Citadel (7-3). South Carolina has won 22 non-conference games in a row at home and hasn’t lost to an FCS team since 1990.
But that FCS team was The Citadel. This year’s Bulldogs are good too. They shared to Southern Conference crown for the team’s first title since 1992 and their triple option offense is gaining 344 yards a game on the ground, which is second best in FCS. South Carolina’s rushing defense is allowing 202 yards a game, ranking 13th in the Southeastern Conference.
And while South Carolina’s hopes for a bowl bid are likely gone, The Citadel still has a good shot at making the FCS playoffs. A loss to big brother South Carolina wouldn’t hurt the Bulldogs chances, but a victory would be a big step toward getting into the postseason for the first time in 23 years.
“We’re going to try to go up there and boost that resume,” Citadel coach Mike Houston said.
Elliott has his own resume to worry about. His time as head coach may be winding down. The team is 1-3, with the only win over Vanderbilt, under the former offensive line coach since he was elevated after the surprising in-season retirement of Steve Spurrier.
The Gamecocks have had chances in each loss. They gained a season best 445 yards in a 35-28 loss to Texas A&M, fumbled the ball after crossing into the red zone with 32 seconds left in a 27-24 loss to Tennessee and stopped Florida on its first four third downs of the second half before giving up a 53-yard run on third-and-8 with a chance to get the ball back down three late against Florida.
The problem has been in the first half. South Carolina has yet to lead at halftime this year. The Citadel has done the opposite, frequently jumping out to big leads. The Bulldogs are outscoring opponents 173-105 in the first half.
Elliott said he is proud that his team has fought back instead of giving up and that has him feeling good about keeping their focus now that their base goal of a winning season is off the table.
Elliott also knows he still has two more games to impress athletics director Ray Tanner, who he hasn’t had his promised meeting with yet to discuss whether Elliott gets the job on a more permanent basis.
“I told my wife on Sunday night, you know, the wins haven’t been there, but I’ve had the time of my life,” Elliott said.