COLUMBIA, Mo. — Shane Beamer’s first year as South Carolina’s head football coach was shaping up as a typical debut season at a program trying to rebuild from the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.
The Gamecocks bullied Eastern Illinois and managed narrow wins over East Carolina, Troy and Vanderbilt. Established SEC programs Georgia and Texas A&M blew the Gamecocks off the field. Kentucky, much further along as a program, held off the Gamecocks by six points. Tennessee, also under a first-year coach, thrashed Beamer’s team by 25.
Then, on Saturday, the breakthrough.
In perhaps the biggest out-of-nowhere SEC outcome of the season, 18-point underdog South Carolina came out of its bye week and dominated Florida 40-17. Attention in the aftermath focused on Florida’s sudden mortality, but in Columbia, South Carolina, it was the signature win that can deliver validation for a first-year coach and change the perception of the Gamecocks program.
“It’s a momentum shift,” tight end Nick Muse said this week. “Everybody thought, ‘Down and out South Carolina, how are they gonna respond?’ You all saw how we did against Florida. Obviously, everything was clicking.”
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“We did some really good things on Saturday night against Florida. But by no means have we arrived,” Beamer said Monday. “It’s a challenge this week to make sure that we’re not comfortable by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve got to continue climbing and continue getting better.”
Needing one more win to become bowl eligible, South Carolina (5-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) continues that climb Saturday at Missouri (4-5, 1-4). Just nine games into his first head-coaching job, Beamer faces a task unique for South Carolina in recent years. For just the third time in 15 years, the Gamecocks come off an upset of a two-touchdown favorite. Can Beamer’s team refocus in a hurry?
“That is a challenge for us. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “A win like that is certainly a little bit different for our guys. We’ve got to handle it the right way. We talked about it on Sunday, that the same people that are telling you how great you are and all that stuff are probably the same people that wanted you benched last week. The same people that were telling myself or (offensive coordinator) Marcus Satterfield how awesome (the win) was and (saying), ‘We’ve been behind you since the get-go,’ we’re probably the same ones that were going on the message boards last week ready to run us out of town.”
“Something that I’m really, really, really trying to keep an eye on,” he added, “is to not let these guys get too comfortable. Players, coaches, staff, anybody in this building.”
Beamer might not have the head-coaching chops of his peers across the conference, but as the son of a College Football Hall of Fame coach, he understands the fickle nature of fan support through the good times and bad. From 2000 to 2020, he coached at seven different Power 5 programs, including a five-year run under Frank Beamer, his father, at Virginia Tech.
At a place that’s traditionally hired seasoned head coaches to run its program — from Paul Dietzel in the 1960s to Lou Holtz in the 1990s to Steve Spurrier and Will Muschamp in the 2000s — Beamer, 44, is just the third Gamecocks head coach in 60 years without prior head-coaching experience. But beyond the Beamer bloodlines, he’s also worked under proven winners at various stops, including George O’Leary (Georgia Tech), Phil Fulmer (Tennessee) and Spurrier (South Carolina), along with contemporaries Kirby Smart (Georgia) and Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma).
South Carolina hasn’t won double-digit games since a three-year run of 11-win seasons under Spurrier from 2011-13. To recapture that level of success, Beamer’s first order of business is upgrading the talent base within the program. His 2022 recruiting class ranks No. 18 nationally by Rivals.com, one spot behind Mizzou’s class. Saturday’s win resonated with more prospects, he said.
“Some guys that in the summertime or early in the season, I couldn’t get them to return a text or answer a phone call … now some of those guys are showing some more interest,” Beamer said. “I think it’s a great statement about where we are right now and where we’re going.”
The Gamecocks would especially like to go to a bowl game. They haven’t played in one since the 2018 season. Saturday’s game might be their best chance to secure a sixth win for bowl eligibility. After playing at Mizzou, South Carolina closes SEC play against No. 16 Auburn then hosts Clemson. The Tigers are down this year, but South Carolina hasn’t beaten its hated in-state rival since 2013.
Beamer addressed this weekend’s bowl stakes with his team Monday then urged them to forget about the topic.
“We’re not talking about Florida. We’re not talking about getting bowl eligible,” he said. “It’s (about) being our very best to go compete against Missouri, because we expect to fully get their best shot this weekend. They’re sitting there at 4-5 and they’re fighting their rear ends off to find two wins, at least, down the stretch as well.”
The rest of South Carolina’s season will define whether the Florida game was a one-hit wonder or the start of something for Beamer’s budding program.
“It was certainly a big win,” he said, “but to me it can become even bigger with the way we play down the stretch.”