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South Carolina’s Muschamp seeking more from team in spring

February 28, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2018, file photo, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp watches during the first half of the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game against Michigan in Tampa, Fla. Muschamp led the Gamecocks to a 9-4 record, their best in four years, last fall. Now, he’s looking to take another step forward to the top of the Southeastern Conference as he and his team open spring practice this week. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Will Muschamp continues to rebuild the Gamecocks despite the football team’s best season since Steve Spurrier’s departure.

And Muschamp has made sure his players know that headed into spring drills.

“I told our team, ‘We’ve made progress. We haven’t accomplished anything,’” Muschamp said Tuesday, the day before South Carolina takes the field for spring workouts.

The Gamecocks were among the biggest surprises in the Southeastern Conference last season, going 9-4 and finishing second in the Eastern Division behind national runner-up Georgia. The victories were the most by the Gamecocks since Spurrier led them to three consecutive 11-2 seasons from 2011-2013.

Muschamp feels good about the improvements — South Carolina was 3-9 in 2015 before he took over — but believes this team is capable of bigger things. The work resumed with offseason workouts and meetings, and continues on the field over the next month.

Muschamp said the players have brushed off the good feelings around campus and around town to get back to work and not let themselves believed they’ve already arrived.

“I think they’ve handled the little success we’ve had very well,” Muschamp said. “And it’s been very little.”

Muschamp made major changes on his offensive staff. He jettisoned former coordinator Kurt Roper after two seasons and elevated receivers coach Bryan McClendon to lead the attack. Muschamp brought in longtime Ole Miss assistant Dan Werner as Gamecocks quarterback coach to help speed up an offense that was 12th in the SEC in scoring, rushing and total offense.

Werner will work closely with Jake Bentley, a rising junior who threw every pass for the Gamecocks last season.

Muschamp said he was confident in McClendon’s attacking style, something borne out in South Carolina’s rally to beat Michigan 26-19 in the Outback Bowl last month. The Gamecocks trailed 19-3 with 20 minutes left when Bentley threw two touchdowns and led four scoring drives to top the Wolverines 26-19.

Bentley threw for 2,794 yards, sixth in the SEC. His 18 touchdowns tied for third in the league.

McClendon’s one game in charge is a small sample size, but one Muschamp believes is telling about his team’s direction.

“We did some good things” on offense last season, the coach said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to score more points.”

Something else that will surely help is the return of dynamic receiver Deebo Samuel, who broke a bone in his leg in South Carolina’s third game and was lost for the year. Before the injury, Samuel had accounted for a six touchdowns, two of them on kickoff returns.

Samuel has been cleared for all football activity this spring. Muschamp will use caution to keep the 6-foot speedster prepped for the season.

Samuel pushed hard during rehab to come back as quickly as possible, Muschamp said.

“I saw him attack the offseason like I felt he would,” Muschamp said. “The injuries were obviously very frustrating for him, but he’s a great young man and understands the situation. Control what you can control is what we talk about all the time.”

A healthy Samuel will add to a receivers position chock full of playmakers. Bryan Edwards caught 64 passes for 793 yards while two freshman pass-catchers in OrTre Smith and Shi Smith combined for six touchdowns after filling in for Samuel.

One of Muschamp’s biggest challenges this spring will be finding depth on the offensive line where the Gamecocks lost starters in guard Cory Helms, center Alan Knott and tight end Hayden Hurst.

“We lost some really good football players and that depth on the offensive line after that first five,” Muschamp said, “we’ve got to have some guys come along.”

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