Josh Kendall

Will Muschamp knows Gamecocks’ defense must improve next season

The man hired to rebuild South Carolina’s defense, and on top of that its entire football program, didn’t have a lot of answers after another disappointing defensive performance Thursday night.

He had only one in fact.

“A lot of our issues need to be addressed in February, so that’s what we will do,” coach Will Muschamp said after South Carolina lost 46-39 to South Florida in overtime in the Birmingham Bowl.

That means recruiting, and Muschamp started right away.

“Pass rushers, if there are any of them out there, come on, come to South Carolina,” said Muschamp after his team fell to 6-7 on the season despite scoring its highest point total against an FBS team this year.

South Carolina lost three of its final four games of the season chiefly because the defense gave up an average of 39 points in those games.

“You score 39 points, you should win,” Muschamp said.

They didn’t because they allowed 46, albeit to the nation’s ninth-best offense and one of the country’s best quarterbacks. Bulls junior Quinton Flowers passed for 261 yards, rushed for another 105 and accounted for five touchdowns on the day.

“Our athleticism and speed on defense has got to improve,” Muschamp said. “That’s very evident when we play faster teams.”

It’s been evident since the Missouri game. Starting with that contest five weeks ago, South Carolina has given up 459 yards per game.

“All those teams spread the field and made us defend the field,” Muschamp said. “Speed. It’s kind of important on defense.”

It’s not all physical ability, though. The Bulls’ two most back-breaking scores of the game – a 37-yard touchdown catch by D’Ernest Johnson with seven seconds left in the first half and a 25-yard game-winning touchdown catch by Elkanah Dillon on the first play of overtime – came on secondary breakdowns South Carolina’s coaching staff had harped on throughout bowl preparations.

Flowers bought time in the pocket with his legs, and the South Florida receivers slipped behind the last line of the defense and were wide open.

“You get in scramble situations, you have to cover him twice,” Muschamp said. “We preached it all week.”

“We didn’t cover twice and the result was what it was, a touchdown,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams echoed.

Allen-Williams believes he and his teammates can turn Thursday’s outcome and the entire disappointing end to the season into a positive during the offseason.

“It’s big for us to take those experiences, take our whipping while we’re down and then rebuild some and dish some out,” he said.

Muschamp said Thursday night after the game that he expects linebacker Skai Moore to be on campus in August.

That would help some. They’ll need more.

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