Saving the best for last, the South Carolina Gamecocks finally got their turn at the podium at the annual SEC Media Days season preview event held in Atlanta this week. Along with head coach Will Muschamp, quarterback Jake Bentley, wide receiver/kick returner Deebo Samuel, and defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum made the trip. First up, here are the highlights from what Muschamp had to say.
A quick update on the practice facility, which has since been named the Long Family Football Operations Center:
A lot of exciting things are happening. ... Obviously we’re excited about the football season, but two things off the field that I’m really proud of: We are going to finish in December our football operations facility. 110,000 square feet, $50 million project that we were — we started with on day one on the job. And it’s been a difference-maker for us in our program. People have asked me all of the time: You guys really seem like you’re recruiting well. When you invest in the student-athlete, like we are doing now in South Carolina and we’ve never done before, wholeheartedly with the football program, it makes a difference.
On the offensive skill positions:
Really excited about the competition that we have at the receiver position, the tight end position, and the running back position. We recruited well and we have quality depth in those areas. Those guys understand every day at practice that they’ve got to strain and earn their opportunities to play on game day.
On the thin depth in the secondary:
In the secondary, I’m concerned obviously at the safety position. We only have one guy that’s played snaps for South Carolina in our league. Steven Montac passed that. We’re going to move Jamyest Williams to safety. J.T. Ibe is a graduate transfer from Rice. He was a three-year starter there, but I think certainly is a guy that’s going to be in that competition. We need some more guys to step up. ... At the corner position, Rashad Fenton, Keisean Nixon and Nick Harvey, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M — all are guys that have played well in our league. So I’m excited about that, but we’ll need more than just those three gays.
On the kicking game, since that got a little adventurous last season:
Our placekicking competition will probably go through camp to find out who our kicker will be. We certainly need to make improvements in that area. Joseph Charlton will be our punter, and I think he’s one of the best in the country.
On Texas A&M and the Gamecocks’ inability to beat the Aggies thus far:
We don’t focus on any opponents more than any other opponents. That’s not coach speak, that’s real. We spend time in the offseason on every opponent we play. I spend the same amount of time at the office preparing for an opponent no matter who it is. We have great respect for Texas A&M, and we need to do a better job in the rivalry. We had our opportunities last year, and we didn’t finish.
On the Georgia game, since the hype is already cranking up:
They had a complete football team last year. Offensively, defensively and special teams, they were tough in all three areas, they were well coached, and they had good players, and they’ve continued to recruit at a high level. ... Certainly we know that game is looming. But the winner or loser of that game is not going to determine the East. There’s a lot of football to be played after that game, regardless of the circumstances and the outcome of the game.
On the continuing growth and development of Jake Bentley:
I think some things obviously we’ve talked in terms of fundamentally that he can clean up. We need to take care of the ball better, especially in some big games, and not create those momentum swings for other teams. But I’m glad he’s our quarterback. I can tell you that right now. And I think we’re doing some things that will take advantage of his skill set, that he’ll be a very productive player going into his third season as starter at South Carolina.
How he’s handled stepping into a post-Steve Spurrier situation at South Carolina:
At the end of the day, it’s not about what you’ve inherited; it’s about getting better and improving. That’s my attitude in everything we try and do every single day. We’ve improved the situation from where we were, and that’s because we have the outstanding support from Coach Tanner and our athletic department, our president, Harris Pastides, and our entire board. They are understanding and investing in what we know to do to be successful in our league.
On what he wants to see from the defense this season:
Number one, we need to be more effective with four guys rushing the passer. We improved tremendously at the point of attack in the running game. We’ve got to continue to do that. We had two linebackers last year in T.J. Brunson and Skai Moore that erased a lot of things in the run game. ... Losing Skai, we’ve gotta have Eldridge Thompson, Sherrod Greene, we need some of those guys to step up for us. We’ll be better up front than we’ve been and I think that’s the key to it. We didn’t allow a lot of explosive plays in the secondary and we got to continue to do that. And we’ve got to be very opportunistic defensively, we led the league I believe last year in turnover margin. But to me, the biggest thing is we’ve got to be more effective rushing the passer with four guys.
On North Carolina coach Larry Fedora’s controversial comments about the sport of football being under attack:
I don’t think our game’s under attack. ... As far as CTE and concussions, all those things we’re talking about, I feel very comfortable with the policy and procedures we have in place at the University of South Carolina. We have a neurologist on the field, we have a neurologist in the box on game day, we have a neurologist at practice. ... I think the more research that we’re able to do, the better off we’re going to be. The number one point of all this is the health and the safety of our student-athletes.
On the Outback Bowl victory against Michigan and what it’s done for the program:
There’s no question that to end the season with a victory always helps create momentum in the offseason going into spring ball. Against a program like Michigan certainly creates momentum in itself. I think the way the game happened — we’re down 19-3, to come back in the second half and play extremely well offensively against a very good Michigan defense, to make some stops on defense — the way we were able to finish the game certainly gives you confidence and helps in recruiting.