COLUMBIA, S.C. – For former Florida coach Will Muschamp, the trip to The Swamp on Saturday could conjure up a range of emotions.
South Carolina’s first-year head coach isn’t sure which ones, if any, will accompany him on his return to Gainesville.
“I won’t know until game day,” Muschamp said. “I stayed at the office normally how late I stay at the office (Monday). I got in the office about the same time (Tuesday) I normally get to the office.
“Nothing changes as far as the workweek is concerned whether we’re playing Florida or anyone else on our schedule. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to Gainesville.”
This much is certain: Muschamp, who spent four years as the Gators head man, is familiar with Jim McElwain’s roster.
Muschamp’s opening statement during his Tuesday news conference touched on nearly every member of Florida’s two-deep depth chart, on both sides of the ball.
“Massive in the offensive line. They’re 300-plus across the board,” Muschamp said. “(Left tackle) David (Sharpe) and (right tackle) Jawaan (Taylor) are both 350-plus and very good athletes, move their feet extremely well.
“They’re talented at the receiver position with (Antonio) Callaway, (Brandon Powell), C.J. Worton, Tyrie Cleveland, Ahmad Fulwood and Josh Hammond are all guys who can win in the 1-on-1 setting. The tight ends, C’yontai (Lewis) and DeAndre (Goolsby), both guys (are) used very well with what Jim does offensively.
“They have four really good running backs that have top-end speed. (Jordan) Scarlett, (Lamical) Perine, (Mark) Thompson and (Jordan) Cronkrite are all guys who can hurt you. We have our work cut out for us defensively. We need to continue to improve, including in the two-back run game. That’s a huge emphasis for us this week.”
Defensively, Florida is loaded with NFL-caliber talent, even without two of its starting linebackers. Muschamp particularly is impressed with the defensive backfield.
“(Cornerbacks) Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor are two talented guys who have played a lot of football,” he said. “They’re very good players. … Duke Dawson is playing very well for them at the nickel. Had a pick-6 Saturday at Arkansas, but he’s a guy who can cover and support the run, a good blitzer and a good football player. Marcus Maye is probably playing his best football at Florida, in my opinion. He’s a sure tackler in space and played a lot of football for them. (Cornerback) Nick Washington and (safety) Marcell Harris are having really good years.”
The injured starting linebackers lead the Gators with more than 100 combined tackles.
“Disappointed for Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone not playing Saturday. Alex, I think had surgery. Hurt for them,” Muschamp said. “Two really good players but better people. Kind of guys that represent college athletics the right way. I know Daniel McMillian has done some nice things, and I’m really proud of him. I recruited Daniel and am happy for him. They have some young linebackers who are athletic and play very well. They’ll certainly step up for them.”
Muschamp continued with his assessment of Florida’s defensive line.
“Up front, Caleb Brantley is a very disruptive player. A guy you have to account for in the run and pass game, and you got to make sure in 1-on-1s you can handle it. He’s an explosive guy and playing at a very high level,” he said. “Taven Bryan is an explosive guy, has developed and is a really good football player. Cece Jefferson and Khairi Clark, they have some depth up front. I know they have some injuries, but they have some depth.”
Familiarity with the personnel, Muschamp said, doesn’t translate to being able to predict what McElwain and Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins will do.
“When you are familiar with a player that you’ve coached before – unfortunately, I know some are really good – but you realize there are some strengths and weaknesses they have in their game,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, this is a players’ game. When this thing tees off at noon on Saturday, it’s going to come down to the players and the players making plays in those situations, and the coaches putting them in good situations to afford them to make some plays.”