South Carolina football: As Georgia looms, Muschamp lowers the boom: We're good, too
Will Muschamp would probably never admit it, but this game is personal.
The South Carolina coach has made it a habit to deflect all questions about the development of the Gamecocks football program, especially the last two seasons as it has exceeded expectations. He doesn’t need to be reminded of the way Clemson and Georgia have performed the last two seasons. But now South Carolina has as much depth as it has ever had under Muschamp, and it has several key veteran playmakers, especially on offense.
If there was a time to take the Gamecocks’ temperature, it’s at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS, when the Bulldogs are set for kickoff.
Even the one major injury concern following Saturday’s win, DE D.J. Wonnum’s sprained ankle, was cleared as relatively minor, and he should return to practice on Wednesday.
Muschamp, a Georgia graduate, played for his current offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon’s father at Georgia. And one of McClendon’s top recommendations to Muschamp came from former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, whom he calls a close friend.
Asked on his Sunday media teleconference if a win this week would be a step toward the SEC East crown, Muschamp again deflected any thinking that way.
“It counts as one,” he said, according to audio posted by SportsTalkSC. “We’ve got a lot of football left to play, seven conference games after this one. So it only counts as one, not one and a half. We need to put all our focus on Georgia this week. They’ve got a good football team, and I think we do as well.”
Muschamp mentions Georgia coach Kirby Smart often, whether it be their pickup basketball games as assistants at Valdosta State or the SEC Media Days schedule.
“I beat him about every time,” Muschamp said about the Valdosta basketball games. “We went out and played three-on-three. It was a bloodbath about every day.”
Of course, McClendon is another Georgia connection — and alum — as a long-time former assistant who previously recruited talent-rich Gwinnett County, Ga., which is a common recruiting battleground for the division rivals. McClendon, in a short time, has gone from an interim head coach at Georgia following Mark Richt’s departure to receivers coach and now offensive coordinator at South Carolina.
If there’s a strength for the Gamecocks, it’s offense. More specifically, it’s at wide receiver, where they not only have an all-SEC-caliber playmaker in Deebo Samuel but realistically go three or four deep.
“In two years time, he’s completed flipped the receiver room, it’s one of the more impressive position groups that we have,” Muschamp said of McClendon. “He’s an outstanding football coach, and sometimes guys get labeled as recruiters, but he’s a better coach than a recruiter. He does an outstanding job with his players on a day-to-day basis. His guys are always accountable for what we need to do to be successful. Belief is such an important part of where we are in our world. Young men have to have a belief in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and Bryan creates a lot of that belief in what we do.”
There was plenty of reason for confidence out of Muschamp against Coastal Carolina, but aside from the upgraded opponent, which he has already admitted, all the variables remain the same this week.
“There was never any question in the first half of what we were going to do because of the experience of our quarterback, being at home, experience of our skill players on the outside, and the offensive line,” he said. “We put the ball in the guys’ hands and let them play.”
More so than any change since Muschamp’s at South Carolina is the revamped offense that has McClendon at the controls. By all indications, the players and coaches feel that offense measures up with the best in the SEC and the country, and this week, that means Georgia.
“What you are going to see is that at times we are going to go extremely fast,” Muschamp said after the Coastal Carolina win. “But at other times we are going to slow it down and see what the defense is giving us. I think it is going to be a game-by-game operation from what I can see so far. After discussing with Bryan, if we start to see that we are extremely efficient when we go extremely fast, then that is what we are going to do.”