CHARLOTTE, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been 246 days since Will Muschamp and the South Carolina Gamecocks last saw the field in game action.
Their last showing -- a 28-0 shutout put together by the Virginia Cavaliers in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium -- was one the Gamecocks and their fans would like to put behind them.
On Saturday, South Carolina returns to the site of their last setback in hopes of starting the season on the right foot against another ACC opponent in the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Under Mack Brown, the Tar Heels are hoping to make a big splash as a possible sleeper to challenge for the Coastal Division title and the ACC crown.
“He's hired a really good staff,” said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp. “Phil Longo was at Ole Miss and is a guy I've got a lot of respect for. Jay Bateman did a fantastic job at West Point. Stacy Searels and I won a National Championship together at LSU. There's a lot of guys I've got a lot of respect for. First game, so expect the unexpected.”
Muschamp and Brown are no strangers to one another. During Brown’s tenure at Texas, Muschamp worked as an assistant under Brown during the Longhorns’ run to the 2010 national championship game.
“Will worked for me for three years. I hired him from Auburn. He was actually our head coach in waiting. He did a tremendous job for us there. We had a chance to win the national championship when he was there. That’s why we gave him that title. We thought we wanted to keep him and a lot of people were coming after him. He’s smart, he’s tough, aggressive and did a tremendous job for us. He left us and became the head coach at Florida and he’s doing a great job at South Carolina.”
North Carolina returns 12 players who started at least one game last year and that could prove to be beneficial for freshman quarterback Sam Howell. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound quarterback out of Monroe, N.C. was listed as the No. 2 player in the state of North Carolina by the 247Sports Composite. Although he hasn’t taken the first college snap, Muschamp is extremely familiar with Howell and what he’s capable of.
"We recruited Sam,” Muschamp said. “We think Sam is a fantastic player. We offered him here at South Carolina. He got arm talent; he had all kinds of records there in high school. He's a guy that's got the ability to run the ball. He's a competitor. He's a battler. He can make all the throws, the touch throws, he can zip it. We've got a lot of respect for Sam.”
Howell will have Dazz Newsome as one of several targets to throw. Newsome was the team’s second-leading receiver last year with 44 catches for 506 yards and two touchdowns. However, with offensive coordinator, Muschamp knows the Gamecocks have to be ready for anything.
“People do what they do and Phil has been a coordinator for a long time and been very successful at what he has done,” Muschamp explained. There are going to be some different things that he does because he going to evaluate the talent he has at North Carolina as opposed to maybe what he had at Ole Miss, as opposed to maybe what he had at Sam Houston (State).
"You’re going to adapt what you do to your players and what they can do best. That’s what good coaches do and that’s what Phil is. They’ll be some changes. I told our guys this morning to expect the unexpected, there is going to be something that we’re not prepared for. You’ve got to fall back on your fundamentals, techniques and your teammates and that’s the bottom line.”
On the other side of the ball, North Carolina brings back 12 starters from a year ago from a defense that allowed just over 34 points per game. With that in mind, Brown believes his team will have to be tough to keep the Gamecocks’ offense in check.
“I think they are really physical. They do a really good job of front,” Brown said. “Bryan Edwards is a really talented player. I think he’s a guy that will make a lot of money playing football. Obviously, at quarterback, Bentley is a coach’s son who has played a lot of football that is very smart and hard to fool. I think they are going to try to run the ball and then throw it over your head.
"That’s what they do and when they are good at it. They are really hard to stop. You’ve seen at times against some really good defenses in the SEC, they’ve looked really good. We have to do a great job with our run defense, be very gap sound, and try to create some confusion up front and trying to find were No. 89 is and stay on top of him.”
South Carolina faces North Carolina in a border battle at Bank of America Stadium at 3:30 p.m.