COLUMBIA, S.C. – Will Muschamp knew what the first question would be as he opened the floor for questions at the 2016 Fall Sports Preview at the USC Alumni Center on Thursday, so he tried to duck around it ahead of time.
He said the quarterback situation was great, but the first question still came in, “Who is starting Week 1?”
“Cory Helms will be at center,” Muschamp said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
But, as he well knew, the question was about the quarterback position, as the Gamecocks continue to have senior Perry Orth and freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley competing to be the starting quarterback this season.
“I wish I knew,” Muschamp said. “No, we’ve got three really good players and I think that they all a skill set that’s a little different.”
As he has discussed previously, Orth brings experience and he praised the senior’s willingness to be a leader and a teacher to the younger two quarterbacks. He praised all three for bringing the intangibles to the position that you would desire, but offered little in terms of suggesting a decision is close to being made. He did, however, point to Saturday’s second fall scrimmage as an important moment for all of them.
“I know one thing: The future at that position at the University of South Carolina is as good as anywhere in the country,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in that. As we continue to move forward, Saturday night is a huge night for all three of those guys. They are performing extremely well. I’ve seen a lot more positives than I have negatives at that position. …
“I’m not as worried about that position as maybe a lot of people are. I do like the skill set we have at the position.”
No holding back from goals
South Carolina has 11 games to play before It plays Clemson, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t what Muschamp is hearing about all the time.
“I get reminded every day,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got two weeks before our opener. I’m focused on that. … I understand the importance of it.”
Muschamp, who hasn’t been shy about his desire and focus on winning now, again said the goal is to get to the SEC Championship Game by winning the east division.
“We need to go to Atlanta and that’s our expectation every year,” he said. “I think, as a program, that ought to be always your expectation.”
He also said “absolutely” the goal is to get to a bowl game, throwing in the mention of wanting to hear Darius Rucker perform, which the noted Gamecocks fan could do if they get to six wins this season.
Support for Baton Rouge
Muschamp opened his time at the microphone with encouraging fans to donate to relief efforts for Baton Rouge, as USC put together ways for fans to donate items to assist the Louisiana capitol after it was hit hard by flooding over the weekend.
“I coached at LSU for four years; Carol and I lived in in Baton Rouge for four years,” Muschamp said. “It’s a wonderful place with an outstanding institution. Some of the best people I’ve ever worked with are there and in talking to them, they’re going through a very difficult time right now.”
He coached at LSU from 2001-04 as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator
Influx of youth
Muschamp, at various points, said the names of true freshmen that will see the field this season.
The biggest comment came at wide receiver, when Muschamp had big praise for Bryan Edwards and said all four freshman receivers will play this season, as well as tight end Kiel Pollard.
“Bryan Edwards is a true freshman from Conway that would start for us if we played tonight,” Muschamp said. “We really hit on all the freshmen at receiver. Randrecous Davis, Chavis Dawkins, Kiel Pollard is playing some tight end for us and Korey Banks. All the guys we signed are good players and they’ll play for us this year.”
He also named three freshmen on the defensive lineman that will see action right away, as he pointed to Kier Thomas, Kobe Smith and D.J. Wonnum.
Top-notch facilities coming
Impressive new facilities have been popping up at South Carolina, the latest being a new indoor practice facility. But the work done to the west of Williams-Brice Stadium is not complete yet, as a new football operations facility is being built next door.
The reasoning, Muschamp detailed, is the “fractured facilities” that USC currently has as the Floyd Building is on the east side of the stadium, while the locker room and meeting rooms are on the other side. The new building will put everything in once place, adding to the facilities Muschamp already feels are nice.
“Once that is completed, I feel like we will be on par with anyone in the country not just the Southeastern Conference,” Muschamp said. “We will give every young man in the state of South Carolina, if they want to come to Carolina, there’s no reason not to.”
A.J. Turner looks like he could be in line to be the starting running back on Sept. 1 when USC opens at Vanderbilt, but the running back situation for the Gamecocks has Muschamp saying it could be without a feature back.
Turner, the redshirt freshman from Clifton, Va., is listed at 195 pounds on the roster, while Muschamp referred to him as weighting 180 pounds. Either way, the first-year head coach pointed out it will be tough to make it through the whole season at that weight.
“It’s very difficult to make it through our season at 180 pounds, but he’s a wonderful young man and he’s going to do everything he can,” Muschamp said. “We are going to be a little bit by committee and feature some receivers in the run game and feature the quarterback in the run game.”
But that’s just part of the transition and making do with the current roster, as Muschamp described it, and next year could look like a different offense.
“We are going to be drastically different offensively next year than maybe we will be this fall,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’ve gotta do what your players can do. … We are going to adapt as we move forward.”
Nunez a work in progress
The playmaking ability of Lorenzo Nunez has an understood excitement to it in his move to wide receiver, but the comments continue to suggest that there remains a lot of work to do in making Nunez more than an athlete playing wide receiver.
“We live in a microwave society right now,” Muschamp said. “It’s add water, instant player. That’s not always the way it works. There’s a myth that we just move a good athlete to a new position. He’s never played receiver in his life. So running routes, how to run routes, running across the middle against live bullets. There’s a lot of different things involved with that.”
Still, Muschamp said that Nunez is doing well this camp and is coming along.
“He’s progressed extremely well, in my opinion,” he said. “He’s not exactly where he wants to be as a receiver right now, but his attitude has been wonderful.”
Odds and ends
In his almost 25 minutes at the mic, Muschamp also touched on a handful of other subjects.
Here are some notes from the rest:
- Muschamp praised the camp performances of defensive linemen Dante Sawyer and Taylor Stallworth, as well as the safety duo of Chaz Elder and D.J. Smith. He also praised cornerback Jamarcus King.
- Chris Lammons is the third safety as things stand currently, but it isn’t about the depth chart. Without saying it in these words, it’s about the best 11 being on the field – “mix and match will happen,” Muschamp said.
- Bryson Allen-Williams has been working at the BUCK some recently, so it came as no surprise to hear Muschamp say that they need Allen-Williams “out there to rush the passer.”
- The specialists group has Muschamp pleased with the loftiest praise going to kicker Elliott Fry, whom he said is “as good as a kicker as there is.” He feels comfortable trotting out Fry anywhere inside 52 yards.
- The return game should feature Turner as the kick returner, while punter returner is between Lammons, Davis and Rashad Fenton.
- Team speed is something Muschamp is not pleased with as a whole. It came up in talking about the special teams coverage units, but then he expressed the desire for more speed as a whole.
- Wide receivers catching the ball was clearly an issue during this week’s three open practices and Muschamp remains concerned by that.
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.