David Cloninger

Muschamp anticipates ongoing process with Gamecocks’ defense

Three offensive – and zero defensive – players traveled with South Carolina coach Will Muschamp to SEC Media Days somewhat because of class conflicts.

Somewhat because they didn’t deserve to.

“The last time we brought defensive guys to Birmingham, it didn’t go so good,” the Gamecocks’ second-year coach zinged.

USC’s offense is deservedly receiving most of the hype for the 2017 season while the defense will remain a work in progress, probably throughout the season. There simply isn’t much known about the Gamecocks’ D to feel confident about other than linebacker Skai Moore – and even he hasn’t played in over a year.

Muschamp talked during the spring about his team being soft, and didn’t back down from it Thursday. While he was proud of the Gamecocks for finding a way to get to a bowl game following a 2-4 start in 2016, he felt USC wasn’t tough against the best teams it played.

The Gamecocks wilted, and much of it was not being able to stop the run and being way too hesitant to try.

Coming into this year, the toughness shouldn’t be a problem. The Gamecocks have heard all about their deficiencies last year and don’t want to keep hearing it.

But with so much unknown on defense, Muschamp will have a very short time to figure out who can do what and prepare for a full season.

“This guy in Game 4 is going to be a really good football player and we need to coach and develop this guy as hard as we can … not that we’re not doing that with the whole team, but we really got to concentrate and saturate this guy the best we can,” said Muschamp, who pointed to the season’s 11th practice (the first scrimmage) as D-Day. “Those are decisions you got to make, and you’re projecting sometimes four or five weeks out. It’s not about Game 1. It’s a long season. We got to get ready for the season.”

Muschamp had to make in-season adjustments as Auburn’s defensive coordinator when his top pass-rusher (Carl Lawson) was hurt in the first game. He moved linebacker Cassanova McKinzy to the “buck” pass-rusher position and tried to Band-Aid the unit throughout the season.

It worked as well as it could have without Lawson for an extended time, and that’s what Muschamp may have to do at USC this season. He won’t demand the Gamecocks run a particular scheme or stick to a particular plan other than, “what works best for who we have?”

“I talk about the who and the what. The what is what can they do?,” Muschamp said. “So it’s not about what we’ve done before, what our scheme is, what we think we need to be, it’s about what can we handle? That’s a constant question.”

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