Mississippi and South Carolina both appeared to score one big victory this week in otherwise disappointing seasons.
They meet Saturday night in Oxford, Mississippi, for one of the few Southeastern Conference games to survive the league’s COVID-19 troubles. It makes a matchup of 2-4 teams stand out with only three SEC games and one ranked team still standing.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp worried when he learned that Texas A&M had COVID problems after their game, a 48-3 loss to the fifth-ranked Aggies. Muschamp said early in the week that his team didn’t have any positive tests.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin had three players under COVID protocols after an open date.
“That’s probably not all bad compared to a lot of people,” Kiffin said.
Indeed, it isn’t.
The Rebels snapped a three-game skid with a 54-21 win over Vanderbilt two weeks ago before an open date. The Gamecocks are trying to rebound from that shellacking that left Muschamp pondering a quarterback change.
They’re 11-point underdogs against the Rebels, and are trying to at least temporarily quiet the critics of Muschamp & Co.
“Obviously, everybody’s got opinions, because when you don’t win, everybody hates you,” South Carolina tight end Nick Muse said. “That’s just how it goes. That’s how this world is. As negative as it is, everybody has their opinion.
“No one wants to come to a game and cheer on a team that’s going to lose. That’s what we’re doing and we’ve got to fix that.”
Kiffin has one theory about some teams citing numbers problems in calling off games. The SEC lets schools do that if they don’t have 53 scholarship players available.
“I guess injuries are counting in those numbers that people can get out of playing,” Kiffin said. “I don’t know. Maybe some people don’t want to play. Maybe their season’s not going good. So who knows?”
When Muschamp heard about Texas A&M having two positive tests in their football program Monday, he immediately got on the phone with Gamecocks trainer Clint Haggard to see if the Gamecocks were affected. It’s the second time this season after a game that South Carolina’s opponent had positive coronavirus tests, happening also the week following a 41-7 win at Vanderbilt last month.
Muschamp threw open the quarterback competition after consecutive losses to LSU and No. 5 Texas A&M where the Gamecocks were outscored 100-27. Collin Hill was a grad transfer from Colorado State who won the job in fall camp. But Muschamp said last year’s starter, Ryan Hilinski, and true freshman Luke Doty will work through the week with the winner getting the chance to start in Oxford.
“The Colorado State kid played really well at times then struggled here as of late,” Kiffin said. “These guys can run the ball really well.”
South Carolina’s rushing attack fell apart at the wrong time. The Gamecocks were among the top half of the SEC in rushing and Kevin Harris entered as the league’s third leading rusher before a 48-3 loss to No. 5 Texas A&M. But South Carolina managed only 50 yards against the Aggies while Harris managed only 39 yards on 13 carries.
South Carolina has won the last three meetings, but the series is deadlocked 8-8 overall. The teams have also split their six meetings in Oxford.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.
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