No Will Muschamp-coached team has been called for more penalties than the 2012 Florida team. No Will Muschamp-coached teams has won as many games as that team either.
That’s why South Carolina’s head coach isn’t overly concerned that his Gamecocks are the second-most penalized team in the SEC at the moment.
“If you go back and look at it, penalty yardage has nothing to do with winning a championship,” Muschamp said this week.
That’s comforting for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are averaging eight penalties per game and losing 74 yards per game because of them. The 2012 Gators were flagged 8.1 times for 68.8 yards per game and finished the season 11-2.
“I looked it up that year because I was really frustrated, and I looked up those ‘06 and ‘08 Florida championship teams and they were the most penalized teams in the league, too,” Muschamp said. “So was the ‘96 team.”
All three of the teams referenced by Muschamp won the national title, but Muschamp stopped short of suggesting there is a positive correlation between penalties and winning.
“I couldn’t quantify that to say there is or there isn’t,” he said.
The least-penalized teams in the SEC this year are Vanderbilt and Tennessee. They are a combined 0-4 in the SEC.
“I think there is a line obviously that you have to draw,” Muschamp said. “I never want to hold back a player from his personality and who he is, but you can’t hurt your football team. You can’t make silly decisions and lose your composure.”
The Gamecocks have made more than their share of silly decisions this year. South Carolina was flagged six times for unsportsmanlike conduct in its last two games.
“Definitely, we have a lot of guys who are enthusiastic,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “You have to play with passion, especially on defense. We have a lot of passionate guys. You cross that line when the play is over with and you’re still talking and stuff. It’s all fine to talk and play with your opponent and get in his head but at the same time you have to get ready to get lined up again, get your call and play the game. There is no tough guy stuff after the play or in between plays.”
But there has been some for the Gamecocks.
Cornerback Rashad Fenton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct against Missouri and kept demonstrably gesturing toward the Tigers sideline after that. One of ESPN’s Twitter feeds publicized a clip of his behavior. Fenton did not speak to the media this week.
“The secondary, we keep each other accountable,” safety Jamyest Williams said. “We let him know when he’s tripping.”
However, talking to opponents is part of what South Carolina’s defensive backs do, Williams acknowledged.
“Our secondary is always trying to get in people’s heads,” he said. “That’s what we want. They are going to react to it. We just can’t react back to whatever they bring to us.”
Brunson believes opponents have provoked the Gamecocks more this season than in his previous two seasons, he said.
“You guys don’t hear it or see it but the other team is always talking to us, too,” he told media members this week. “It’s not just our team responding. There are a lot of guys out there talking and trying to get you to do something to mess your team up.”
He also thinks his team is improving the way it responds despite the recent evidence to the contrary.
“I think our guys are really head strong now, especially knowing teams are going to come in trying to do that to us,” he said. “We kind of expect it going into games now so it’s not going to be as much of an issue.”
Muschamp makes a distinction between “undisciplined” and “aggressive” penalties. The aggressive variety he can accept.
“When you lose your composure, it affects you as a player,” Muschamp said. “It doesn’t just affect the incident and the play that just happened, it affects the next series and it affects the next five plays because you lose your composure and you are not really making rational decisions when you lose our composure.
“We have just had self-inflicted wounds and that’s something we are not going to tolerate. It has been frustrating, but again, is there a correlation between winning a championship and doing it? No, there is really not.”