As the rain came down Saturday and the score started to tilt a certain way, the frustration inside Williams-Brice Stadium grew.
South Carolina football was fighting to hold on to a second-half lead over No. 9 Florida, but there were several questionable non-calls from the officials. And a crushing fumble. And a critical flag that erased a USC interception.
From the student section behind the north end zone, plastic bottles and rally towels started flying toward the field. A less-than-complimentary chant about the referees broke out. Gamecock coach Will Muschamp was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after blowing up at a ref for not calling offensive pass interference on a Florida touchdown. And the Gators flipped a 20-17 deficit into a 38-20 lead they would ride to a 38-27 win.
But all in all, the chipiness stayed to a minimum on the field. While tensions rose around them, the Carolina players felt they did a good job of keeping their emotions in check.
“Yeah, of course, we just kept focused, just focused on the next play and put everything behind us,” senior running back Mon Denson said.
“We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game. Obviously sometimes things don’t go your way,” senior receiver Bryan Edwards said of the second-half atmosphere. “You gotta learn how to handle adversity the right way, and I think we did a good job of doing that.”
Especially on defense, where most of South Carolina fans’ frustrations with the referees were focused, the Gamecocks on the field said they held their tongues.
“We can only control what we can control. We can’t really speak on the officials and what they were doing and what not,” sophomore linebacker Ernest Jones said. “ ... No one mouthed at our officials, said anything wrong towards them. They’re out there trying to do their job to the best of their ability, and that’s all.”
Sophomore cornerback Israel Mukuamu, who said he was held on a 75-yard Florida touchdown run in the third quarter, publicly gave the officials the benefit of the doubt, saying they must not have seen it, although plenty of fans saw it as obvious.
“We gotta be able to just tune all that out. (The referees) didn’t help us either, but we just can’t let the game come into their hands,” Mukuamu said.
And Muschamp, outside of criticizing an official for walking away before flagging him for unsportsmanlike conduct, declined to risk a potential fine in making any further remarks on the refereeing. He and his players instead emphasized the Gamecocks’ lack of execution in key moments.
“Control what you can control. That’s all that it is to it. It’s just like I said, I think we left a lot of plays out there,” senior defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw said. “If we had capitalized on a lot of plays, me especially, I left a lot of plays out there. So I put it on myself.”