South Carolina football: Stinging loss sends Will Muschamp back to drawing board
Make no mistake about it, this was a crushing loss for Will Muschamp.
He set the table for the season as this being the best — and deepest — team he had fielded in his fourth season as South Carolina’s head coach.
But on Saturday the Gamecocks fell against North Carolina, an 11-point underdog which was 2-9 last year and has a first-year coach and true freshman quarterback.
“We just need to go back and evaluate our team at all positions right now,” Muschamp said afterward, responding to a question about quarterback changes.
Perhaps most troubling is that two known issues, run defense and quarterback inconsistency, remained at the top of the list of problems for Muschamp and his staff to address.
For a defensive-minded coach, the way the Gamecocks allowed North Carolina to come back from a 20-9 fourth-quarter deficit has to be especially troubling. When South Carolina’s Kyle Markway scored a touchdown, it seemed like he grabbed the momentum for the Gamecocks and settled the volatile tight end position in one scoring drive.
But in response the Tar Heels registered scoring drives of 98 and 95 yards, and the second one came after Muschamp went the conservative route and chose to punt near midfield instead of going for it on fourth down.
Muschamp is routinely candid in his personal assessment, and he didn’t shy away from the mistake this time.
“I felt confident about our defense coming into this game and making some stops,” he said. “I felt comfortable about our defense, and obviously, I was wrong.”
North Carolina gained 483 yards, but did most of its damage on the ground, rushing for 238 yards (4.6 per carry. That came in contrast to South Carolina’s 270 yards of total offense.
“They are patient in their runs and we cut back and over-pursued,” Muschamp said. He also added that he was “extremely disappointed with the tackling and lack of tackling.”
Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley had a change to change the narrative about him entering the fourth quarter. But instead, he went 2-of-9 for 15 yards and two interceptions in the quarter and finished 16-of-30 for 142 yards. When Bentley’s team needed him the most he couldn’t come through, which has happened often in recent years.
The players struggled with execution, but there are plenty of questions about the coaching decisions and play-calling because South Carolina has a lot of offensive weapons. Bryan Edwards left in the first half with an injury, but returned and only had one catch in the game. Is this the kind of offense Muschamp had in mind when he replaced Kurt Roper with Bryan McClendon as offensive coordinator?
“Our offense, we moved the ball well in the first half,” Muschamp said. “We have to go back and look at the second half and see what we were doing wrong.”
That’s because they had just 42 offensive yards after taking a 20-9 lead.
The Gamecocks face Charleston Southern next week, so there are realistically two weeks ahead for the Gamecocks to quell the hand-wringing in the locker room and around the program. Because they will need an entirely different effort on Sept. 14 when Alabama visits Columbia.