COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina has been caught napping by an FCS opponent before — and does not want it to happen again.
The Gamecocks (5-4) take on Chattanooga (6-4) of the Southern Conference on Saturday with plenty to play for, including to further distance themselves from the embarrassing defeat to The Citadel three years ago.
South Carolina is coming off a disappointing fourth-quarter collapse in a 35-31 loss to Florida and has Palmetto State rival in No. 2 Clemson coming up a week after playing the Mocs.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said his players will prepare the same as they do each week, focused solely on Chattanooga and not what happened or what’s ahead.
“Our guys understand, it’s not really about the opponent and, regardless of who we play, it’s about us and our preparation and how we go about our business,” Muschamp said. “We can’t control who we play or where we play or what time. At the end of the day, we can control what we do.”
The Gamecocks can reach six wins and qualify for the postseason — and the additional practice time that comes with it — with a victory.
South Carolina has been tripped up by an FCS team in the recent past with a 23-22 win by The Citadel in 2015 right before Muschamp’s arrival.
The Gamecocks had seemed to find some footing in recent weeks until squandering a 17-point lead in the final 16 minutes at The Swamp a week ago.
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley said the team’s ability to take a 31-14 lead on the Gators gave them confidence they can play well.
“At the end of the day we didn’t win,” Bentley said. “We had the chance to go down the field and score and we didn’t. That’s the glaring thing for us.”
Some other Things to watch for when Chattanooga takes on South Carolina:
South Carolina will honor seniors Saturday and those with eligibility who might not return. Muschamp said offensive line starter Donnell Stanley has not yet decided if he’ll be back, although he’s taking part in senior ceremonies. Injured linebacker Eldridge Thompson is seeking a sixth year of eligibility, yet will walk with the seniors since his family is coming to the game.
The Mocs had won three straight Southern Conference titles from 2013-15 and made three NCAA playoff trips from 2014-16. However, they’ve struggled to gain their footing under second year coach Tom Arth. The team went 3-8 a year ago and will see its season end after facing South Carolina.
Arth has seen progress this season . “We’re one possession away in each game from being 10-0. We were in the hunt for the entirety of this season,” he said.
STEPPING OUT OF CONFERENCE
The Gamecocks close with three non-conference opponents after finishing Southeastern Conference play at 4-4. Following the game with Chattanooga, South Carolina plays at Clemson, then returns home Dec. 1 to take on Akron as a makeup game for the contest with Marshall cancelled due to Hurricane Florence two months ago.
The Mocs lead the Southern Conference and are ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in fewest points allowed per game this season (18.2). They’re also 19th in the FCS in passing yards given up at 185.3 per game.
The Gamecocks will again be without linebacker-lineman Bryson Allen-Williams who hurt his ankle in the win at Ole Miss two weeks ago. Allen-Williams had been one of South Carolina’s most disruptive defenders this season with team highs with 10 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries. Muschamp said Allen-Williams, a senior, might return for South Carolina’s bowl game.
Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this article.
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