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Will South Carolina's defense be a quick fix or long-term project under Will Muschamp?

Can a longtime defensive specialist turn around one of the worst defenses in the nation in 2016?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

South Carolina Gamecocks football was one of the better programs in the country once upon a time. Coached by the legendary Steve Spurrier, they attracted talent from everywhere on both sides of the ball. Ellis Johnson, and later Lorenzo Ward, coached the defense to remarkable success, ranking in the top 25 defensively every year from 2008-2013 (with 2010 being the lone outlier.) The Gamecocks had top ten poll placings from 2011 to 2013, due in part tobrecruiting classes that were among the best nationally.

Then they weren't.

The defense lacked the tenacity that it once had, dropping all the way to 91st in the nation. Lorenzo Ward was on the way out, and Jon Hoke was brought in. They changed defensive schemes, lacking an identity. The "Spur" position was gone, taking with it any remnants of the once-great Carolina teams stocked with NFL talent. It was gone.

Now, with Will Muschamp taking the reins from the departed Steve Spurrier, the former Florida head coach and longtime defensive coordinator brings his defensive acumen and swagger to a team lacking an identity and defensive structure. Could this mean big changes this season? Let's take a look at the tape to see what's in store.


When watching Coach Muschamp's defenses at Florida and Texas, the first thing that really catches your eyes is the sheer physicality of his players. No one, from the front four to the back seven, was afraid to come up and make a bone-jarring hit on the ball-carrier, and as a result, they forced fumbles frequently. Not only did they hit hard, but they also wrapped up well - which will be a new concept for most of the players on our roster. A sure-tackling, physical, and punishing defense would be a welcome sight in Columbia.


Coach Muschamp's defense, based on a hybrid 4-3, is similar to that of the New England Patriots, but sometimes gives 3-4 looks, engineering pressure from any spot on the line. His main focus appears to be control of the line of scrimmage, as he traditionally has big DTs to plug up the middle and open up things for the linebackers behind them. His scheme demands versatility from every single down lineman, as they can line up at truly any spot on the line and get after the passer. This sort of complexity in a scheme hasn't been seen for a long time in Carolina, and should't be expected to be as effective as it was at Texas and then Florida until a talent influx and learning curve is taken into account. Once recruiting starts to pickup after more and more success at USC, Coach Muschamp should be able to bring in his "guys" that he can plug in and play right away as they learn his complicated defense.


Although much of Coach Muschamp's success came by way of the front seven, his back four is vital to what he does. It is no secret that he knows how to develop defensive backs, as he has helped 21 defensive backs get drafted in his time at Texas, Auburn, and Florida. His coverage is based on a lot of press man-to-man, but with some Cover 3 and Cover 4 looks mixed in throughout the game, based on personnel, down and distance, and game management. He prefers tall, long cornerbacks with the tackling and ball skills to make plays and force turnovers. His safeties are usually athletic and rangy and aren't afraid to come up and make a hit on the ball-carrier. Coverage has been a sore-spot in Carolina's game plan, most memorably in the Georgia game last year when our cornerbacks, lined 10 yards deep off the ball, allowed a menagerie of underneath throws to be completed by Greyson Lambert, who finished the day with a 96% completion percentage (an NCAA single-game record). This is the same Greyson Lambert who passed for 86 yards against Alabama, finishing a tenuous 10 for 24. Once a press-man system is put in, drastic improvement should be expected from the Gamecocks' back seven.


Here is Coach Muschamp's YPG and PPG allowed each season he was a DC/HC, starting with his time under the tutelage of Nick Saban at LSU.

School-Year PPG (National Rank) YPG (National Rank) Record
LSU-2002 17.7 (11th) 286.77 (8th) 8-5
LSU-2003 11.0 (1st) 252.0 (1st) 13-1
LSU-2004 17.1 (14th) 256.9 (3rd) 9-3
Auburn-2006 13.9 (7th) 292.3 (19th) 11-2
Auburn-2007 16.9 (6th) 297.9 (6th) 9-4

18.8 (18th)

342.9 (51th) 12-1
Texas-2009 16.7 (12th) 251.9 (3rd) 13-1

23.6 (49th)

300.1 (6th) 5-7
Florida--2011 20.3 (20th) 299.5 (8th) 7-6
Florida-2012 14.5 (4th) 287.5 (5th) 11-2
Florida-2013 21.1 (15th) 314.3 (8th) 4-8
Florida-2014 21.1 (20th) 329.8 (15th) 7-5
Auburn-2015 24.7 (48th) 405.2 (71st) 7-6
South Carolina-2016 ? ? ?


If you watched any of Carolina's games last year, it was clear that the defense needed to be cleaned up and re-energized. With Coach Muschamp leading the team, and subsequently the defense, next season, fans should be in store for a lot more physicality, energy, and an overall improvement on the defensive side of the ball.