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Shane Beamer hasn’t lost his excitement.
No, Beamer didn’t have that same ear-to-ear grin or out-of-breath joy he showed after South Carolina’s opening two wins against Eastern Illinois and East Carolina. Some level of reality set in for the Gamecocks’ first-year coach after his first SEC test against the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs saw USC fall 40-13 in Athens.
There’s the bad — uncontrollable factors such as injuries to key starters quarterback Zeb Noland, linebacker Sherrod Greene and cornerback Cam Smith. There was that obvious mismatch between South Carolina’s unproven offensive line and the Bulldogs’ talented defensive front, lined with five-star talent.
The Bulldogs are the favorites to win the SEC East and possibly make a run in this year’s College Football Playoff. Beamer inherited a South Carolina program in a rebuilding phase.
And even after a 27-point loss in a game that truly never felt like it was in the Gamecocks’ grip, Beamer reminded his team in the locker room that he hasn’t lost that excitement he’s carried since taking the job in December.
“As bad as we were in a lot of different areas tonight, I’m more excited about this football team coming out of this game than maybe I even was going into it,” Beamer told reporters after the game, “because of the signs that I saw, some of the things that happened as the game went on, and the way that we responded.”
Those signs? Safety Jaylan Foster’s pair of interceptions. Good tackling. Holding the Bulldogs to 184 yards on the ground. Receiver play, particularly from veterans Josh Vann (three catches, 128 yards) and Jalen Brooks (three catches, 54 yards).
A lot of the good Beamer mentioned in his postgame press conference revolved around the Gamecocks’ defense, which faced its toughest challenge to date against Georgia.
It was far from a great performance. The Bulldogs put up 491 yards and 40 points on South Carolina — the most allowed so far this season by a sizable margin.
Even though Georgia passed for 307 yards and turned explosive plays on Saturday, the Gamecocks’ defense still maintained a positive turnover margin thanks to Foster’s two interceptions and R.J. Roderick’s fourth-quarter forced fumble, which turned into South Carolina’s only touchdown.
So when Beamer’s looking ahead with optimism, it’s likely those are the kind of stats he’s leaning on.
Beamer knows there’s plenty for the Gamecocks to improve upon before they host Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium next Saturday. But he saw enough to feel OK about the road ahead.
“Got a lot to improve,” Beamer said. “We’ve got to get a whole lot better as a football team before next week. But I did see a lot of signs tonight of a team that has a chance to be a good football team.”