USC notes: Gamecocks coach Muschamp greeted warmly by former players at Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One by one they approached Will Muschamp, until the row of blue jerseys looked almost like a receiving line. Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan, both defensive tackles. Ahmad Fulwood, a wide receiver. Joey Ivie, a nose tackle. All of them and more, saying hello to their old head coach.
Saturday didn’t bring the end Muschamp had hoped for, at least on the field, as South Carolina’s three-game winning streak was ended in a 20-7 loss to Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. But there was plenty for the USC head coach to smile about afterward, when one Gators player after another came to embrace the man who had coached them from 2011-14.
Muschamp went 28-21 in four seasons at Florida, but was dismissed following an overtime loss to South Carolina in 2014. Saturday was his first game back since then, this time leading the Gamecocks program that had been his undoing two years ago.
“It’s about the people,” he said. “It’s not about the logo, it’s not about the buildings. It hasn’t been a long time since I’ve been here, and at the end standing there for 15 minutes talking to players — that’s what it’s all about, the relationship you build with people over time. A lot of those people still work here at Florida, and I’m grateful and always will be. That’s part of that.”
Muschamp said repeatedly in the days leading up to the game that it would be just like any other work week for him, and he wouldn’t know what emotions he’d feel until he got to Gainesville. He has plenty of history here, given that he grew up in the town and sold sodas during games at the Swamp as a youth.
Asked if any player in particular said anything to him, Muschamp replied “about 18 of them.” The game was also Florida’s senior day, the final appearance in the Swamp for 18 players, most of which Muschamp had coached. “It was good to see those guys,” he said.
USC running back Rico Dowdle left Saturday’s game midway through the third quarter, limping off with help from trainers after receiver Deebo Samuel rolled over the freshman’s right leg when being tackled. Although he did not return, Muschamp said afterward that Dowdle was fine.
Reserve running back A.J. Turner, who sprained his knee last week against Missouri, dressed but did not play Saturday, leaving ball-carrying duties to David Williams and former walk-on Rod Talley. USC safety Chris Moody left the game with what Muschamp termed a bone bruise.
Florida’s tally of injured players, which included five starters going into the game, grew higher Saturday. Safety Marcus Maye was carted to the locker room, and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., center Tyler Jordan, and left tackle David Sharpe all had to be helped off the field.
Former Florida and USC head coach Steve Spurrier, now an advisor to the Gators’ athletic department, took the field in between the first and second quarters Saturday to introduce players from his 1990 and 1990 SEC championship teams, which were honored during the game.
Several USC players couldn’t help but watch as Spurrier spoke to the crowd for several minutes. Spurrier resigned as the Gamecocks’ head coach in the middle of last season, after a decade-long run that produced three 11-win seasons, but ended in the midst of what would become a 3-9 campaign.
Yet Spurrier’s affinity for his former USC players remained evident — the now-former Head Ball Coach and his wife, Jerri, waited outside the South Carolina locker room after the game.
South Carolina’s problems in punt coverage continued Saturday, when Gators receiver Antonio Callaway averaged 39 yards on four returns. Callway had a 32-yarder that was a season-long for the Gators, and had a return for a touchdown called back for a hold.
“He’s a really good player, especially with the ball in his hands, but that’s a major issue for our football team,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to improve our team speed.”
Cornerback Chris Lammons returned three punts for the Gamecocks, the longest being 10 yards. USC also used receiver Deebo Samuel as a return man on the opening kickoff.