David Cloninger

USC’s 2014 victory at Florida: The game that got Muschamp fired

Will Muschamp takes South Carolina to The Swamp on Saturday.

That’s one way to put it.

The other is, “On Saturday, Will Muschamp takes the program that got him fired to the place where he got fired.”

Saturday will be shy of two years from the end of Muschamp’s first head-coaching stint. Although he finished the 2014 regular season at Florida (he did not coach the bowl game), he was relieved of his duties a day after the Gamecocks beat Florida 23-20 in overtime.

Looking back at Nov. 15, 2014:

Gainesville Sun Columnist Pat Dooley

“I think it was really the Sugar Bowl (vs. Louisville, after the 2012 season) where it started to go wrong. They’d gone 11-1, they had just barely missed going to the BCS championship game, but that game, nobody showed up. That’s when it kind of turned. Not drastically, but there was a slight turn, as in, ‘Maybe this isn’t what we wanted.’ They weren’t that thrilled at 11-1 because it was done without a whole lot of offense.”

Cody Jones, former staff writer at FightinGators.com

“In 2013, a lot of fans looked at it in terms of results, instead of injuries, even though they had a historic amount of injuries. No team in the country could have withstood that. Any rational person would look at that and say it was a perfect reason to have a bad year. But the pressure really turned up after the Georgia Southern game. That was when people were just embarrassed.”

The Gators lost at home to Georgia Southern in a game where the Eagles didn’t complete a pass.

Dooley

“People are yelling at me and cussing me to demand a firing, and I knew he wasn’t going to be fired. He’d just been coach of the year. But the Georgia Southern game was really the breaking point. To lose to a team that at the time was still FCS, and not be able to stop them at all … that was where the countdown kind of started.”

Jones

“There was no question going into 2014 that his seat was warm. He got rid of (offensive coordinator) Brent Pease and they got Kurt Roper. It was not a desirable OC spot but Muschamp got him. Still, the negativity had built up so much it was affecting recruiting.”

Dooley

“They were playing Tennessee and they somehow win 10-9 after pulling (Jeff) Driskel and putting in Treon Harris but the next Monday, Harris is suspended. I thought, ‘Can nothing go right for this guy?’ 

A late interception and a 50-yard field goal handed LSU a 30-27 win the next week. Then came Missouri.

Dooley

“Literally the worst game I’ve seen Florida play in the modern era. After that, you knew he was one loss away. It was an inexplicable result, to be honest with you.”

The Tigers won 42-13 in Gainesville despite gaining 119 yards and seven first downs. They returned a kickoff, punt, fumble and interception for touchdowns.

Jones

“We were all talking in the pressbox, ‘Is this the one? Does it happen tomorrow?’ Those might be the loudest boos I heard in The Swamp in the last 10 years.”

But afterward, Florida beat Georgia for the first Cocktail Party win in Muschamp’s playing/coaching career (he was 0-7).

Jones

“So we started thinking, ‘What happens if he beats Vanderbilt, USC, Eastern Kentucky and Florida State? This thing sets up well.’ It really felt like there started to be more energy.”

NOV. 15, 2014

The Gamecocks had lost three SEC games after holding two-score leads in the fourth quarter. USC jumped to a 10-0 lead but the Gators tied it late in the third.

USC quarterback Dylan Thompson

“We badly needed a win. That season was crazy, losing so many games a lot of people thought we already had won.”

Dooley

“Boring, awful game. Nobody could do anything. Spurrier went right down the field the first two drives. But from that point, Florida shut them down. Treon Harris ran in a touchdown (in the final five minutes), but they called holding on Quinton Dunbar. But Florida can still get a field goal which will clinch it.”

Gerald Dixon Jr. blocked Alex McCalister’s 32-yard attempt.

Thompson

“We blocked a field goal and I thought, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ 

Dooley

“USC hadn’t done anything, and sure enough, Florida gets a stop. All the Gators got to do is run three plays, and they still can’t run out the clock.

“The week before in Nashville, Leon Orr was the upback on the punt team. He threw a fit because he wasn’t starting. Muschamp threw him off the team, which is the right thing to do. But then when they’re punting against USC, the guy goes right by the upback who should have been Leon Orr, and he blocks it. Muschamp did the right thing and he got burned. Typical of the Muschamp era.”

Thompson

“They set up to punt and sure enough, (Carlton) Heard runs through there and blocks it. It was like you knew it before it happened.”

USC went 34 yards in 27 seconds to tie the game. Mike Davis fumbled but he fell on the ball in the end zone.

Thompson

“It was just how our season had gone. We hadn’t gotten a break all year.”

Dooley

“Now you’re going to overtime, and we were all, ‘I think we know how this is going to end.’ 

The Gamecocks forced a field goal for a 20-17 Florida lead.

Thompson

“If you remember the Tennessee game when we went to overtime, we tried to throw it and I got sacked. I think Spurrier thought back to that game and said, ‘Let’s just not lose yards.’ 

Davis carried four times for 14 yards as USC drove to the 11. Thompson hit Pharoh Cooper on a 5-yard swing pass to the 6 and David Williams picked up 2 yards for a first-and-goal at the 4.

Thompson

“I remember the way they played it, I could have kept that ball and scored. So I said, ‘They call that play again, I’m keeping it.’ I knew before the snap I was going to be able to run it in.”

Thompson sprinted untouched into the end zone for an improbable 23-20 win.

Jones

“That was certainly the last straw, after the way it happened. Those teams just seemed to find ways to lose. There had been a lot of home losses, and that one was to Spurrier, which set it off. It was a matter of time at that point. The negativity had reached such a high level.”

Thompson

“I think coach Spurrier knew what was about to happen, too, and he wasn’t happy about it. But when you’re in football, it doesn’t ever end well.”

Dooley

“Spurrier was so apologetic about the win because he loves Will. Will’s his guy. He hated that his season wasn’t going well. But we knew it was coming. It happened early Sunday. Muschamp came in and had a note to come to (athletic director Jeremy Foley’s) office. The paperwork was already set out for him to sign.”

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp

“We didn’t do a very good job at the end of the game and that’s my responsibility.”

Muschamp returns to The Swamp Saturday with a team that has found its confidence after a 2-4 start. The Gators are reeling after a 31-10 loss to Arkansas where their offense never showed up and what seemed like half the team was injured.

Muschamp’s predecessor, Spurrier, will be on hand to honor his 1990 and 1991 Florida teams. Muschamp will see seniors that he recruited to Florida be honored before the game. Muschamp’s successor, Jim McElwain, completes the circle of two programs intertwined with three men.

Perhaps McElwain starts to feel his seat get a little warm with a USC win Saturday.

With Muschamp holding the candle.

Thompson

“That really helped (Muschamp) and I think he learned a ton. I’ve talked to him a lot, and obviously not about that game, but just how I respected his teams, and how they just played so hard. They played with really relentless effort and if he can just establish that at South Carolina, the results will come. People are seeing that now.”

Jones

“There’s no question, as agitated as this fan base still is, the guy can coach defense. Nobody in the world would deny that. He could find a way and piece things together. The offense is what’s been so impressive. A lot of people here, I think, are still high on Roper.”

Dooley

“He is a perfect example of a guy with nothing to lose this year. At Florida, he had something to lose every time, every game, every season. He did something he could never do here, which is revive a dying season. Now a lot of people here are wondering why Florida can’t win with their freshmen, like Will is at South Carolina.”

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

  Comments