South Carolina returned to the football field Thursday for the first time since its disappointing end to the 2016 regular season.
“It still burns,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said Thursday of the 56-7 loss to Clemson on Nov. 27.
The Gamecocks (6-6) can now start distancing themselves from that burn as they prepare to face South Florida (10-2) in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29 in Legion Field.
“You feel the buzz in the building with the coaches today, looking forward to getting started,” Muschamp said. “Our guys did a really good job with exams, proud of that, got some time to regroup and refocus a little bit. We got a couple of workouts in the week before exams. They’ve had some time to exhale and get ready for this run right here against a very good football team.”
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The Gamecocks will spend their first four practices on “fundamentals, physicality, and the things we need to do to continue to improve our team” without mentioning South Florida, Muschamp said. The team will begin its game plan installation for the Bulls on Monday and continue that through Dec. 23. From there, the team will break for Christmas and then hold its first of four practices in Birmingham on Dec. 26.
“The game plan needs to be done here,” Muschamp said. “When you get to the bowl site, there are a lot of distractions and things and you want to be able to refine things when you get to the bowl site.”
Muschamp does not want to begin preparing for South Florida too soon to keep his players from becoming burnt out, he said.
“Players can become a little stale prepping for an opponent too much. It’s no different than the first game of the season when you’re coming out of training camp,” he said. “As a staff, we have game planned them starting this past Monday when we all started back in the office.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and former Texas head coach Mack Brown had the biggest influence on Muschamp’s bowl preparation strategy, Muschamp said.
“A lot of people continue to practice through the month of December. I think that becomes monotonous for the players after a while and it gets to where they don’t want to go to a bowl game if they are going to practice the whole month of December,” Muschamp said. “We try to condense it and treat it like a spring ball-type atmosphere. We are going to get 12, 13 practices. That’s about as many practices as we got preparing for a national championship game. There’s only so much you can do. A lot of people do it different ways. I’m not saying there’s one right way to do it.”
Players were not made available to the media Thursday.
The Gamecocks will be facing a team that just lost its head coach, Willie Taggart, to Oregon. T.J. Weist, South Florida’s co-offensive coordinator, will be the Bulls interim head coach in Birmingham.
“Quinton Flowers is still there,” Muschamp said when asked about Taggart’s departure.
Flowers is the Bulls dual threat quarterback, who is 10th in the nation in total offense this year with 331.3 yards per game.
Former Texas coach Charlie Strong already has been introduced as South Florida’s full-time coach, but he won’t take over the team until after the bowl game.
“I know coach Taggart left for Oregon, but he left all those players in Tampa,” Muschamp said. “I know those (players) are going to want to impress Charlie Strong. They want to go practice well. I’m sure Charlie will be watching practice every day. There’s a lot of motivation involved in that. The fact is, they’re not going to change their identity in a couple weeks’ preparation for a bowl game about who they are and what they do.”