ATHENS — It went down as the Miracle on Markham Street: Near the end of the 2002 season, LSU was clinging to a six-point lead in Little Rock, when Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones heaved a ball into the end zone, and it was caught by a Razorbacks receiver for a stunning 31-yard touchdown. There were only nine seconds left.
Television replays showed then-LSU head coach Nick Saban stomping on the sideline afterwards. Arkansas had beaten his team to advance to the SEC championship.
Will Muschamp was an assistant coach on that LSU team. So he knows what his good friend Kirby Smart and the Georgia football team just went through, falling to Tennessee on a Hail Mary this past Saturday night.
“Yeah, I’ve been through it,” said Muschamp, now in his first year as South Carolina’s head coach. “It’s hard, just from the standpoint from being at that point where you’ve played well enough, obviously, to win the game. You feel like the game’s in hand. You get a play like that. It happens.”
When it happened to Georgia, it set up a match-up this week in Columbia, S.C., between two teams with two-game losing streaks, both already basically out of the SEC East race. It will be the fifth time that Muschamp, a Georgia safety in the 1990s, faces his alma mater as a head coach, having gone 1-3 against them at Florida.
Georgia (3-2) opened as an 8.5-point favorite, per Vegasinsider.com.
Muschamp, who like Smart is a Saban protege, said he knew without checking that Georgia had practiced the Hail Mary defense every Thursday in practice.
“We all come from the same school that you practice and go over. I know it’s been coached, and drilled, and talked about, and illustrated on film, and practiced,” Muschamp said. “Sometimes those things happen. And it’s very frustrating.”
Muschamp and Smart were teammates at Georgia, but a few years apart: Muschamp was a senior when Smart was a freshman who was redshirting. They became closer when both worked at Valdosta State in 2000, then maintained the bond as both worked under Saban’s tutelage.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Kirby, he’s a great friend, and regardless of what happens Saturday, or 10 years from now, we’ll always be friends,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very good friend of mine.”