MarShawn Lloyd injury stings for Gamecocks, but does Will Muschamp really have bad luck?
The news out of South Carolina’s fall camp Thursday that highly anticipated freshman running back MarShawn Lloyd would miss the season with a torn ACL was a brutal blow for the Gamecocks as they prepare to open their 2020 season.
Lloyd, a coveted high 4-star recruit who chose South Carolina over Alabama, was expected to be one of the SEC’s breakout newcomers in 2020, stepping in for departed seniors Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster. Instead, Lloyd was left posting inspirational messages about overcoming adversity on Instagram, and new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is left wondering who will tote the rock in his run-first, downhill play-action offense.
Meanwhile, Will Muschamp, already facing a pivotal season at South Carolina already complicated by a brutal conference-only schedule, certainly must be wondering what he did this time to anger the ungracious gridiron gods. The injury is the latest season-ending injury that has hurt Muschamp in recent seasons, with the loss of Jake Bentley certainly impacting the team’s bottom-line last season, the loss of star wide receiver Deebo Samuel putting a damper on an otherwise outstanding 2017 season, and a rash of season-ending secondary injuries causing the pass defense to fall off the map in 2018.
If you only looked at injuries, you’d be forgiven for wondering: Can Coach Boom ever catch a break?
Certainly, it’s fair to suggest Muschamp has been snake-bitten by injuries throughout his tenures at Florida and South Carolina.
You could even potentially argue he’s been a hit a little harder than most places.
A year removed from an 11-win season and Sugar Bowl Appearance in 2012 at Florida, Muschamp’s 2013 Gators squad was decimated by injuries. All-American defensive tackle Dominique Easley, a team captain and the heart and soul of a Florida defense that ranked first in the country in 2012, was lost for the season in the first month. Every member of Florida’s starting secondary group, which featured 4 guys who would go on to play in the NFL, missed games due to injury as well.
The 2013 season in Gainesville also started the trend of Muschamp losing quarterbacks for extended stretches due to injury.
Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel was lost for the year in a win over Tennessee. His replacement, Tyler Murphy, was also lost for the season, and by the time Florida closed its season against eventual national champion Florida State, the Gators started Skyler Mornhinweg at quarterback, a player who finished his career in the Ivy League.
In 2014, Muschamp’s final year in Gainesville, Florida rotated a banged up and often ineffective Driskel with freshman Treon Harris.
At South Carolina, Muschamp was fortunate with Jake Bentley until his senior season, when the highly touted QB was lost for the season in Week 1. Ryan Hilinski didn’t play poorly, but when he was injured briefly, the Gamecocks were left with Dakereon Joyner, who would eventually convert to wide receiver.
Maybe that’s bad luck, and if Muschamp’s quarterbacks had been more healthy, losing seasons might have been different.
Then again, Muschamp is charged with recruiting and he’s charged with personnel choices.
At Florida, Muschamp chose Driskel over future NFL starter Jacoby Brissett, whom his offensive coordinators preferred. Brissett left and averaged more than 2,000 yards per season with 20 touchdowns and fewer than 6 interceptions (only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota also did that in those 2 seasons) as an All-ACC performer at NC State.
Under Urban Meyer, Florida’s quarterback room was Tim Tebow, John Brantley and Cam Newton. Muschamp has had Skyler Mornhinweg and Dakereon Joyner. Is that bad luck or poor quarterback evaluation and recruiting?
Maybe Muschamp has had bad luck on that end, too.
He was responsible, after all, for the electrifying Will Grier ending up at Florida, and it’s an interesting but academic discussion to wonder what would have happened with Grier if Muschamp hadn’t been dismissed at Florida. Muschamp didn’t coach Grier for a single down. Is that bad luck?
Maybe Grier, coupled with the elite defense Muschamp had built, would have guided the Gators back to glory. Or maybe Muschamp’s teams would have wilted in the 4th quarter or forgotten to punt block to seal a victory — little things that happened throughout his tenure at Florida.
Yesterday, Muschamp landed 5-star QB Gunner Stockton, who praised the longstanding relationships he had with Muschamp and the Gamecocks staff as the reason he was turning down Georgia. It was great news for the Gamecocks program, but you’d be forgiven if in the back of your mind you wondered if Muschamp will ever get to coach him.
What about Muschamp’s offensive coordinator hires? Is that more Boom bad luck?
On paper, all of them, even Charlie Weis, the quarterback whisperer Tom Brady called “an offensive genius like no other,” were seemingly great hires. Brent Pease had — the narrative went — helped build a spread offense juggernaut at Boise State. His offenses at Florida were only juggernauts at churning out All-SEC punters. Kurt Roper was given multiple chances, and improved things a bit, but he was dismissed by Muschamp late in the 2017 season. Bryan McClendon’s offenses showed flashes, but he was stripped of play-calling duties and left the staff, leaving Mike Bobo, longtime Georgia offensive coordinator under Mark Richt, in his wake.
Are the failed offensive coordinator hires bad breaks or bad luck? Or are they the product of Muschamp’s choices, coupled with his continued micromanagement of a side of the ball he doesn’t understand?
It’s a fair question, and one that leads us to the present, where Muschamp, once the rising star everyone wanted, the coach-in-waiting at Texas, is fighting for his career as a Power 5 head coach?
Maybe the truth is Muschamp’s injury “bad luck” feels worse than his contemporaries because the margin for error on his football teams tends to be so small.
Take Boom’s specialty, defense.
In each of his seasons of 7 wins or more in Gainesville, Muschamp’s teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in defense, the kind of production that made Muschamp coach-in-waiting at Texas.
Interestingly, however, they also all ranked in the top 20 nationally in turnover margin. If Boom’s defenses can’t go get the ball at an elite rate, his teams tend to struggle. That might be an odd stat to use to demonstrate just how small a Muschamp team margin of error tends to be, but you get the point.
Injuries — and bad quarterback choices and offensive coordinator hires — hurt more when the difference between a great season and a losing one contains tiny margins. Muschamp’s football teams always seem to be walking the tiniest tightrope between magnificent and mediocre.
Further, the evidence, compiled over a decade as a head coach in the SEC, suggests that maybe there’s a systemic reason contributing to the way Muschamp seems to constantly lose critical players to season-long injuries.
At Florida, there were long whispers that Muschamp’s strength coach Jeff Dillman wasn’t elite, especially when it came to implementing the specific types of training mechanisms designed to build muscle strength and endurance and cultivate a body more resilient to injury.
After 7 years (3 at Florida and 4 in Columbia), Muschamp parted ways with Dillman, a sign that perhaps better late than never, he adjusted his readers and saw what so many observers of his programs at Florida and South Carolina saw: under Dillman’s strength and conditioning programs, Muschamp’s teams were constantly too banged up in October and too tired in the 4th quarter.
Finally, there’s the question of the difficult situations Muschamp has inherited at each of his head coaching stops.
Is that bad luck?
While it’s true that Spurrier’s last team was 3-9, his winning culture was one that won double-digit games 3 seasons in a row. Muschamp, long reputed to be an elite recruiter, was thought a logical choice to replenish the roster and sustain the culture.
Muschamp had to — and did, to his great credit — put out the toxic cultural tire fire left behind in Urban Meyer’s usual incendiary wake when he arrived at Florida. He is known as a bit of a Michael Clayton cultural clean-up artist, at least off the field.
But cultures require you win, too, and Muschamp’s rivals seem to do plenty of that when he’s around on the other campus.
While in Gainesville, Muschamp dealt with Jimbo Fisher and FSU winning 48 games and a national championship in a 4-season stretch. Is that bad luck? Or is some of that about FIsher simply outcoaching and outrecruiting and running a better operation than Muschamp?
Clemson now wins 13 games a season. Is facing Dabo Swinney in living rooms with recruits bad luck? Maybe.
Then again, if you adjust your C0ach Boom readers and look a bit closer, you see a different picture.
Clemson looks pretty great lately. But only a decade ago, Clemson was still talking about the glory days under Danny Ford and hoping to win a Meineke Car Care or Music City Bowl. South Carolina was winning double-digit games a season and Spurrier was cracking Dabo jokes.
Clemson had facility advantages, but zero cultural advantage over South Carolina when Dabo started building.
FSU had few discernible advantages over Florida, save perhaps a small facilities edge offset by the reality that Florida has way more booster money, generates more revenue and plays in a better stadium and conference. Yet Fisher was able to build a dominant program in less than a decade while Florida was mired in the mud in Mushchamp’s shadow.
The point? Sometimes we make our own luck.
And it’s on the head coach to build the program and win games.