ATHENS — South Carolina comes to Sanford Stadium as a program badly in need of a statement win to gain some momentum this season.
The No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) play a Gamecocks team (2-3, 1-2) looking to build off is bye week and get on track under Will Muschamp at noon on Saturday (TV: ESPN).
Muschamp is popular and well-respected. But Year Four is always somewhat of a benchmark for a head coach.
Coaches are expected to have instilled their culture and built a congruent program by their fourth season, having had four full recruiting cycles.
Muschamp, like most other SEC coaches, has had his challenges, and this season is no different.
South Carolina lost veteran quarterback Jake Bentley at the start of the season and has opened with a challenging schedule.
But even Muschamp admits the Gamecocks have not played with the necessary consistency.
Hale McGranahan, the South Carolina beat writer for 247Sports, provided some pregame insight into the Gamecocks all for DawgNation this week.
Here are five questions and Hale’s insight on South Carolina football:
Q: How would you rate Will Muschamp’s job security halfway through his fourth season at South Carolina? What is the expectation there, and how close has Muschamp come to meeting or exceeding it?
HM: Since this was a question I heard several during the offseason, I’ll start with the stock answer I delivered during the summer months.
If they make a bowl game and don’t have anything embarrassing happen off the field, then he should absolutely be back in 2020. I just have a hard time seeing how you can part ways with a coach when half of his losses (this season) are to three of the top 4-6 teams in the country. Obviously, I assumed South Carolina would lose to Alabama, Georgia and Clemson. Still am, actually.
However, there’s a vocal segment of fans looking for a change. And apathy, for some folks, is starting to creep in.
There are still seven games left on the schedule, several of which they should win, though two of those top 4-6 teams are counted among them. And I still think they’ve got a realistic shot to make a bowl game, even if it’s in Birmingham.
Plus, Muschamp has got a hefty buyout and an athletic director/former baseball coach who’s probably not going to be in a hurry to fire the most important move he’s made as AD, especially since he’s already had to part ways with the first baseball coach he named as his successor.
There are also some interesting dynamics in play with the Board of Trustees and the university president, who was hired a couple of months ago.
Q: Former South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel said at the Senior Bowl that Georgia was South Carolina’s biggest SEC rival. Would most Gamecocks’ fans agree? If so, who are South Carolina’s other rivals in the league?
HM: It would probably depend who you ask, but I think Georgia probably wins out, ahead of Tennessee and Kentucky. Believe it or not, before a couple of weeks ago South Carolina was on a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats, so that game has sort of evolved into an important one.
Q: Jake Bentley suffered a season-ending foot injury. Is there any possibility he transfers? How much did Bentley’s injury set back the offense?
HM: It’s definitely possible that he’s played in his final game at South Carolina. If I was a betting man, I would probably say that’s where the safe money is, but I don’t know for sure, one way or another.
There’s been some drop off, though Bentley didn’t play well at all in that game against North Carolina. Ryan Hilinski’s had some growing pains, though there were some other issues that were out of his control, including some of the play-calling against Missouri.
Q: What are South Carolina’s strengths and weaknesses on offense?
HM: South Carolina’s had a lot of success running the football, when they’ve been committed to it. Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster, who transferred from Clemson, are running really well right now. Individually, Bryan Edwards has been the best player on that side of the ball. He’s on track to own pretty much every career receiving record in school history.
Hilinski needs to be more accurate throwing the deep ball. That’s been sort of an issue over his first four games. The pass-protection could be better and they’ll be starting a freshman right tackle on Saturday. And the staff needs to get Shi Smith the ball more.
Q: How do the Gamecocks measure up on defense? Are there some areas that are much stronger than others, and if so, which ones?
HM: Everyone wants to talk about Florida and Auburn and what they do in the pass-rush, and rightfully so, but South Carolina has three guys (Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnum and Aaron Sterling) among the SEC’s best, in terms of total sacks. The linebacker play has gotten better this year after really being an issue in 2018.
The play at safety hasn’t been good, which is even more of a concern since Muschamp coaches the position. As a whole, the defense has given up far too many big plays, particularly on the ground.
DawgNation Georgia-South Carolina Week