COLUMBIA, S.C. — Believe it or not, there are signs of life at South Carolina under first-year coach Will Muschamp.
The 2-4 record that matches last year’s start and includes three-straight SEC losses doesn’t really speak to an improved football team. And it is awfully hard to put lipstick on a pig that looks like the Gamecocks offense.
However, the defense is trending in the direction of where things were when 10-win seasons were the norm in Columbia.
Junior defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth senses the improvement.
“It’s a huge improvement from the last two years to now,” he said. “But we still have to get better on defense.
South Carolina enters the bye week 61st in the country in total defense, giving up an average of 395.7 yards per contest. Against the run, the Gamecocks are 108th, allowing 222.67. That’s a national improvement over last year, but not a statistical one. The biggest jumps, however, come in passing defense and scoring defense. They’re 17th in passing defense (173 yards) and 28th in scoring defense (20.2).
Nearly all statistical categories have improved in each of the last two seasons.
- Total: 429.8 (95), Run: 217.42 (110), Pass: 212.4 (50), Scoring: 27.5 (70)
- Total: 432.7 (94), Run: 212.23 (107), Pass: 220.5 (53), Scoring: 30.4 (91)
South Carolina hasn’t exactly faced a gauntlet of offensive juggernauts, but the Gamecocks’ defense has performed well in those few situations so far. South Carolina held Texas A&M to its lowest total offense (422 yards) and points (24) on the season.
Nationally, the Aggies rank 21st in scoring offense and sixth in total offense.
“I feel like we’ve made a big improvement, just by an effort standpoint,” junior cornerback Chris Lammons said. “The effort is there. Everybody wants to be there. Everybody wants to do their job.”
The difference starts at the top.
Under the previous regime, South Carolina was led by an offensive-minded coach who was too busy planning his next golf outing and picking fights with a local columnist.
Muschamp’s made his name on defense. And, since he’s arrived to Columbia, media access to his assistant coaches and freshmen has been cut off.
“We’re a different team,” senior defensive lineman Marquavius Lewis said. “We’ve built our base on different point of views and we’re all seeing everything through, so off accountability, everybody just has to do our jobs to the best of our ability.”
The team’s small group of veterans is trying to make that happen as they hit the backstretch of their careers.
Seven of the redshirt seniors on South Carolina’s roster were true freshmen back in 2012, when the Gamecocks went 11-2 and beat Michigan in the Outback Bowl. They experienced the highs of the glory years, witnessed the beginning of the end in 2014 and saw the bottom fall out in 2015.
Redshirt senior safety Chris Moody notices a change, and it’s not just on his side of the ball.
“It’s a big difference. They are two different coaching staffs,” he said. “Even when coach (Shawn) Elliott took over, it’s a whole different feeling to the coaching staff now that coach Muschamp is here.”