COLUMBIA — He went through three different coordinators and six different starting quarterbacks, but his offense at Florida always seemed to be stuck in idle. Avoiding that may very well prove the key to Will Muschamp’s success in his second head coaching job, at South Carolina.
The four seasons he spent overseeing the Gators left no doubt about Muschamp’s ability to build defenses and to recruit, two areas where Florida often ranked in the top 10 nationally. Offense, though, was another matter altogether — his Gators never ranked higher than ninth in the SEC in total offense, and never higher than eighth in points per game. His last game in Gainesville, a 23-20 overtime loss to the Gamecocks, proved his Florida experience in microcosm.
Things will be different at South Carolina, he said. “Philosophically, we want to snap the ball as many times as possible and score as many points as possible,” Muschamp said when he was introduced as USC’s head coach. “And that’s what we plan on doing.”
Under Muschamp, defense has rarely been a question — his units have ranked in the top 10 nationally five times in his six seasons as an SEC defensive coordinator, the notable exception being this year at Auburn. At Florida he built a defense that ranked in the top 10 three times in his four years as head coach, and left behind a unit which helped his successor Jim McElwain win the SEC East in his first season.
“A lot of teams can score points today,” said USC athletic director Ray Tanner, “but a lot of teams can’t keep teams from scoring.”
Muschamp will be hands-on with USC’s defense, just he was at Florida. He left the offense in the hands of other staff members, and plans to follow the same practice with the Gamecocks. “Offensively, the coordinator calls the plays, so that’s what we plan on doing here,” he said, “and we certainly need better results than we had at Florida.”
His first Florida team, with Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, ranked ninth in the SEC in total offense. After Weis left to become head coach at Kansas, Muschamp hired Brent Pease. Two seasons later, the Gators had sunk to 12th in the league in total offense, and Pease was released. Muschamp hired Kurt Roper, and while the Gators improved in both yards and points per game, they remained near the bottom of the league in total offense.
The quarterback situation at Florida certainly didn’t help. Muschamp had five quarterbacks — Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel, Max Staver, Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinwheg — who would ultimately transfer to other schools, and despite his acumen as a recruiter struggled to find the right player to run his pro-style system.
What does that portend at South Carolina? The leading candidate to become Muschamp’s offensive coordinator at USC is Roper, currently an offensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns, and formerly offensive coordinator at Duke, where he directed a high-scoring attack under head coach David Cutcliffe. But Muschamp has also talked about running a faster-paced offense behind a quarterback with legs, using former USC great Connor Shaw as an example.
That quarterback could be in the Gamecocks’ next recruiting class, if four-star prospect Brandon McIlwain remains true to his commitment to USC. And despite using the same offensive coordinator from his ill-fated final season at Florida, Muschamp at least seems open to learning from the missteps made in his last head coaching experience.
“Certainly anytime you’re able to reflect and take some perspective on what happened, you’ve got to be able to learn,” he said. “That’s one of those things you’ve got to be able to do, look back. There’s nobody who’s going to be more self-critical of themselves than myself in terms of what we need to do to be successful.”
Three USC seniors will play in all-star games, the school announced. Offensive tackle Brandon Shell, a Goose Creek native, will play in the Jan. 23 East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., along with defensive tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. And tailback Brandon Wilds will play in the Jan. 23 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, Calif.