South Carolina football: Signature victory resets Muschamp tenure
A lot of things have gone wrong for South Carolina this season, but the defensive front has been plenty consistent. That unit’s prowess was evident again on Saturday and that, along with a sensational day from the defensive backs, helped the Gamecocks to their biggest win in at least 3 years.
Defensive pressure up front forced a key play in the game, Israel Mukuamu’s interception return for a touchdown on quarterback Jake Fromm’s throw intended for George Pickens. Mukuamu returned it 53 yards, which gave the Gamecocks the lead.
The upset of No. 3 Georgia in double overtime, 20-17, is coach Will Muschamp’s biggest signature victory at South Carolina, and perhaps in his eight-year career as a college head coach.
“I could care less about Will Muschamp,” the coach said. “I’m really happy for our players. I’m happy for a staff that works its (tail) off. I’m happy for our fan base, so they can enjoy the week. That’s really what it’s all about to me. But it’s never about me.”
But for the program overall, it was South Carolina’s first win over a top-five opponent since 2013.
South Carolina improved to .500 overall and in the SEC (3-3, 2-2) and delivered its first win over a ranked opponent since it beat No. 18 Tennessee in 2016. For Muschamp, it might be his best win since No. 10 Florida knocked off No. 4 LSU in 2012.
“You show a lot of mettle, a lot of toughness,” Muschamp said after the game. “You talk about the character of the program, the leadership of the program, and the character of the young men in that locker room. We’ve been through a lot this year. We’ve been very inconsistent to this point, and the bottom line is we did what we had to do to win the ballgame.”
That character was never more on display than on the sidelines when the coaching staff tried to limit defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, who played the majority of the defense’s 95 snaps.
“We tried to take him out three times and he said, ‘The hell with y’all, I’m going back in the game,'” Muschamp said.
Muschamp called backup QB Dakereon Joyner’s performance “gutsy as hell,” because he returned and relieved the injured Ryan Hilinski. Joyner missed last week’s Kentucky game with a hamstring injury.
“Our kids fought their (tails) off, you can’t question that, and how hard they play,” Muschamp said. “… We’ve got to continue to press forward and move forward, but we’ve certainly improved in our last 3 weeks out.”
On Saturday the Gamecocks forced 4 turnovers and had a consistent running game, just the type of identity Muschamp would want out of his program. And Mukuamu, one half of some chatty cornerbacks, had 3 interceptions, including one in overtime, becoming the first Gamecock since 1988 with three picks in a game. Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn won the matchup against Georgia’s young and talented receiving corps and kept the Georgia passing game in check.
Faced with a daunting schedule, South Carolina needed a building block upset against one of its chief rivals, Georgia or Clemson. It delivered that on Saturday and put to rest — for a while — the kind of talk that led some to check Muschamp’s buyout figure earlier this season.
South Carolina snapped a four-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. It was the Gamecocks’ first win over Georgia when the Bulldogs were in the top five since 2012, when South Carolina beat No. 5 Georgia 35-7. It would be increasingly difficult to recruit against that kind of streak.
The potential for Muschamp’s bunch was never more evident than on the 93-yard touchdown drive highlighted by Hilinski’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Edwards.
It’s a different outlook now in the Muschamp-led program in Columbia. It’s a complete turnaround from a month ago.