Josh Kendall

Muschamp slays Vols again and maybe their coach this time

Tennessee’s football team is going to need a new head coach soon. Maybe it should hire Will Muschamp. He doesn’t lose when the Volunteers on the field.

South Carolina’s coach improved to 6-0 all-time against Tennessee as his Gamecocks held on for a 15-9 win Saturday afternoon in front of 98,104 unhappy fans at Neyland Stadium. Muschamp was 4-0 against the Volunteers as Florida’s coach and improved to 2-0 with the Gamecocks. He is 17-22 all-time against the rest of the SEC.

“We’ve had some great games. At the end of the day, we’ve been fortunate we’ve made some plays here and there for whatever reason,” Muschamp said. “They have a great program, a historic program. Look at all the great coaches and great players that have come through here. It’s an awesome place to play.”

Muschamp has been where Butch Jones is now, on a hot seat that is getting hotter, and he did his best to give Jones some support Saturday afternoon.

“Butch is a good guy and a good football coach, and I wish him luck,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp’s opening statement in his post-game media session was complimentary to the Vols.

“Tennessee played their hearts out, came out first half and gave us a lot of issues,” he said. “They game-planned us extremely well, in my opinion.”

Alas, what Muschamp’s team had done on the field did much more damage than his words could ever undo. For just the third time in 19 tries, South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) won in Knoxville, and it dominated much of the game despite having to hold on for dear life at the end.

Legendary Tennessee coaches Johnny Majors and Phil Fulmer both were fired the week after losses to the Gamecocks. Jones hasn’t built up nearly as much good will as those two guys, but his fate could be the same. Tennessee’s previous SEC game was a 41-0 home loss to Georgia. Its next will be a trip to No. 1 Alabama. Jones, who was predictably prickly afterward, might not survive the week.

“Well, did we not play a good football team? That’s a good football team,” he said. “We got better, and unfortunately, we came up short. We had the opportunity to win the football game. That’s a good football team. Next game. Your character is being tested, competitive character. I’m proud of this football team. We had two very, very good weeks of preparation, and two very good weeks of practice. That was a football team that laid it on the line today against a good football team. They laid it on the line, and we had an opportunity to win a football game.”

While the Volunteers (3-2, 0-3) are going down in Jones’ fifth season, the Gamecocks are going up in Muschamp’s second. They have matched last year’s conference win total with games against Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia remaining. With a nonconference game against Wofford still on the schedule as well, eight wins is starting to look like worst-case scenario rather than the pipe dream it seemed two weeks ago.

“We’re not where we want to be, but thank God, we’re not where we were,” Muschamp said. “We need to continue to improve.”

Turning this one-time lopsided rivalry on its ear was a good start and also a sign of the new SEC. South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley grew up dreaming of playing in Tennessee’s vaunted Neyland Stadium.

“It was unreal,” he said. “Growing up you, watch games and you’re like, ‘Wow, I wish I could play there one day.” Then you’re on the field and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m that guy now.’ It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to play in that stadium.”

Now the question is whether Jones will get to coach in it again.

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