COLUMBIA, S.C. – Will Muschamp was down on the bayou coaching defensive backs for Nick Saban when he had his first meeting of the minds with the Stoops clan.
For two days on the campus at LSU, Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops joined Saban and Muschamp to “talk scheme and talk ball.” Muschamp returned the favor with a trip to Norman the following year for more idea swapping.
Mark, the youngest of the Stoops brothers, wasn’t on Bob’s staff at Oklahoma, but he employs a similar defensive system as the head coach at Kentucky.
Muschamp and Mark Stoops will match wits when the Gamecocks and Wildcats square off on Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.
“I think that there are some scheme similarities that are very similar in preparation for them,” Muschamp said. “And I am sure they feel the same way with us.”
That means QB Brandon McIlwain and the South Carolina offense can expect to see a variety of looks from Kentucky’s defensive line.
“Defensively, they’ve been a three-down and four-down team,” Muschamp said. “They’re big at the corner position, a lot of middle-field covers and quarters. They’ll apply some pressure, but you’ve got to be prepared for both fronts, and Mark does a very good job on defense.”
Stoops, however, isn’t the only coach on the Kentucky staff who has ties to Muschamp. Wildcats offensive coordinator Eddie Gran coached running backs at Auburn while Muschamp coordinated the defense from 2006 to ’07.
At every stop since 1995, running backs coach has been a part of Gran’s title: Ole Miss (1995-98), Auburn (1999 to 2008), Tennessee (2009), Florida State (2010-12) and Cincinnati (2013-15).
It’s no wonder that Kentucky has almost twice as many running plays as passing plays this season (110-63). And, with starting QB Drew Barker sidelined Saturday, that run-first trend likely will continue.
Through three games, the Wildcats are sixth in the SEC, averaging 190.4 rushing yards per game. With Stephen Johnson II in line for the starting nod at quarterback, the Wildcats have four players who likely will run the ball on Saturday night.
Stanley Williams, who averages 7.1 yards per carry in his career, leads the team with 341 yards this season. Freshman Benny Snell is first with 4 rushing touchdowns. South Carolina fans might remember JoJo Kemp, who chalked up 131 yards and 3 touchdowns for Kentucky in the 2014 game, a 45-38 win by the Wildcats.
This game in Lexington might need a few overtimes to reach 83 total points. Then again, Kentucky’s scoring defense, which has given up more than 43 points per game, is last in the SEC.
“They’re long, a tall defense,” said South Carolina TE K.C. Crosby, who has caught 8 passes this season. “They’re going to come off fast, physical, with energy, so we’re just going to have to play a lot harder and a lot faster than them. Hopefully, we play better than them, longer.”
Gamecocks center Alan Knott will have his hands full with Matt Elam, a 6-foot-7, 360-pound defensive tackle.
“They’ve got some speedy guys outside,” Knott said. “They like to do an odd-spinner look and try to get you confused, especially down there at the center position in the middle, but we’ll just have to be aware of that going in.”