South Carolina football: With Gamecocks riding momentum, Will Muschamp looking forward to Florida reunion
As Will Muschamp has traveled throughout the SEC and college football, he has maintained that his rooting interest begins and ends with the current logo and which school is responsible for the current paycheck.
Muschamp said it earlier this season when he faced his alma mater in Georgia, and he said it two years ago when his South Carolina team played a Florida team with a host of players he recruited and coached. He said it Sunday night about his impending return to Florida this week for a noon kickoff on Saturday on ESPN.
Against what he perceives as the prevailing narrative of what people remember about his time at Florida, Muschamp said it wasn’t as bad as how most describe it.
“Regardless of what everyone wants to write, I had a great experience at Florida. It didn’t work out, and that’s part of our profession,” Muschamp said, according to audio from SportsTalkSC. “If you don’t win enough games, you’re going to get fired, and that’s just the bottom line of our profession. I’m not one of those guys that has hard feelings towards anything. We had a great opportunity there and I didn’t get it done. I still have a lot of Gator friends that I talk to a lot. I grew up in Gainesville, and I look forward to going back to Florida. That’s a place I have a lot of great memories.”
By most indications, Muschamp is having a better run of things at South Carolina in his third season, where he has a 20-14 record, then he did with a 28-21 record at Florida. He’s just two wins from matching his Florida win total after three seasons, and that included an 11-win campaign in Gainesville.
The reunion comes at a time when he said QB Jake Bentley had his best game as a Gamecock, according to Muschamp, in the shootout win at Ole Miss. The Gamecocks have their first 2-game winning streak of the season, and have their playmakers delivering when needed.
“If you want to go back early in the year, we were just very inconsistent, as a football team,” Muschamp said. “But offensively, I think we missed some opportunities down the field that certainly could have charged our team a little bit, would have helped our defense, would have helped our special teams, and we just, for whatever reason, didn’t hit some of those.”
Now they’re starting to hit those, such as Bryan Edwards’ 75-yard touchdown, and how Deebo Samuel became the seventh SEC player in history, and first since Tennessee’s Evan Berry, to have 4 career kickoff returns for a TD. The Gamecocks’ 7.4 yards per play figure was boosted by Edwards’ long TD, and Mon Denson’s 69-yard rush.
There’s also depth that helped South Carolina absorb season-ending injuries to defensive backs Jamyest Williams (shoulder) and Javon Charleston (foot). While it was a shootout, the coaching staff steered the M*A*S*H* unit of the secondary through the win over pass-happy Ole Miss. It’s not as if they did it against the struggling pass offenses of Kentucky or Mississippi State.
But the Gamecocks are left with seven defensive backs who are healthy enough to play, and three are true freshmen. The Ole Miss game was the first time Muschamp has played a game with four freshmen in the secondary, however briefly, as injuries mounted late.
“Our guys were going to grab the momentum in the fourth quarter, that’s what they do,” Muschamp said. “You recruit it, No. 1. You recruit guys that like ball. You recruit guys that have character. You recruit guys that have physical and mental toughness, and that’s part of the recruiting process, it’s part of the evaluation.”
South Carolina has played in three consecutive games that were decided late, and Muschamp made it a point to identify Bentley, LB T.J. Brunson, DB R.J. Roderick and DB Rashad Fenton as players that fit that toughness mold he outlined.
“When you have enough of those guys collectively, it affects the entire culture of your organization,” Muschamp said. “So the ones riding the fence, they fall the right way.”
It’s interesting timing with the Florida game on tap and Florida coach Dan Mullen also discussing having a competitiveness, or lack thereof, following the Missouri loss.