South Carolina hoping to lean on experience and depth heading into tough schedule

Local News

COLUMBIA, SC (WJBF) – South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp believes this Gamecocks team is the most talented and deepest he’s had during his four years in Columbia. The Gamecocks will have to prove it against a brutal schedule.

South Carolina will play the three top-ranked teams in the AP preseason Top 25 poll. No. 2 Alabama comes to Williams-Brice Stadium in week 3, USC travels to No. 3 Georgia in week 7 and will see their rivals at home in week 14 when they host No. 1 Clemson.

But before any of that, the Gamecocks will get a border battle against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Charlotte on Saturday, August 31.

The Gamecocks return 16 starters from last year, including quarterback Jake Bentley, who has started 32 of the last 33 games. Bentley will have the top two returning rushers from a year ago in the backfield in Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson. Three of the top four receivers return as well, led by Bryan Edwards.

On defense five of the seven top tacklers from 2018 are back on the field for a unit that was decimated by injuries a year ago.

There will be plenty of personal pride on the line in Charlotte as well, with 14 current Gamecocks hailing from the state of North Carolina. Will Muschamp spent three seasons on current UNC coach Mack Brown’s staff from 2008-2010.

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 3:30 p.m.

Head Coach Will Muschamp Weekly Presser vs. North Carolina (Tues., Aug. 27, 2019)

Opening Statement…
“I’ve got a lot of respect for coach (Mack) Brown obviously working for him for three years. Carol (Muschamp) and I were talking last night, it was probably three of the better years I had in coaching there at Texas. Glad he’s back in college football, not that he wasn’t in college football, but he was on y’alls team. And now he’s back on our team. I’m just kidding. Y’all can laugh a little bit there – loosen up. He’s hired a really good staff. 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. You’re trying to piece together film from different teams and different things. You’ve got point of attack tapes for different North Carolina players that have been there before and played there previously. A lot of those guys we recruited, so they’ve got some good football players on that team. This is a team that lost five games by one score or less. They lost a game to a hurricane. Obviously, confidence is such an important part of what we do, and you lose a little confidence in those sorts of situations. I think that’s probably what happened, and that situation maybe snowballed a little on them last year. They’ve got some talented players – a bunch of guys that we’ve recruited before. We need to go up to Charlotte, and we need to play well. I thought we’ve had good preparation. We introduced, last Friday, North Carolina to our team. We started back with our normal Tuesday practice today. We’ll tie things up Wednesday and Thursday, then Friday we’ll have a walkthrough. Injury report for us – really only one guy – Keir Thomas I told you after our second scrimmage was going to be cleared for full contact. He was doing a lot of stuff – worked out on that Sunday. He came back on that Monday and had some swelling. As the week rolled on, he’s got an infection in the ankle right now. The ankle is fine, the ligament is fine but we’re dealing with the infection right now. We’re pumping him with antibiotics, and it’ll probably be two weeks. I’ll let you know after that where we’ll be. We need to get that under control right now. The ankle is fine. Other than that, we should be good. Evan Hinson and I’s last conversation he was going to transfer and play basketball. He felt like that was what he wanted to do moving forward, so we wish him the best.”

On an update regarding Nick Muse…
“Not at this time. That’s in our compliance team’s hands. Again, that’s up to the NCAA.”

On how you handle a situation like that with Muse and if you travel him to the game still…
“Well, we’re practicing and giving him reps to get him ready for the game. Certainly not investing as many reps as you normally would. He certainly could help our football team this year. We’ll wait on word. If he has not been cleared, he can’t travel.”

On Devontae Davis’ status… 
“It was a Lisfranc injury and he had surgery. He’s doing well, but he’ll miss the season.”

On if there’s an update on Jaquaze Sorrells’ status…
“Not at this time, we’re still working through that.” 

On if the depth of this team showed with good competition in camp…
“I think so. You go back to our first scrimmage – to be able to roll three groups out there and be very competitive and to know that even in that third group, there’s guys that are going to help our football team this year. They’ll help and contribute to our team. You can talk all you want about trying to be physical, trying to do the things you’ve got to do to be successful, but in order to play three-technique, you’ve got to take on a 700-pound double team. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to get better doing that. If you don’t rep that enough, you’re never going to get really good at doing it. So to be able to do that and have 150 live scrimmage snaps, special teams snaps, that is attributed to depth on your football team. There’s no question it’s made us better, because guys understand that they have to bring their A-game every single day to practice in order to play. There’s no question when you have quality depth, to be able to have guys get more competition, it brings more consistency in your performance as a player. There’s less motivation from a coaching standpoint on the practice field. Guys know they have to come and perform to play. At the end of the day, the film is what matters.”

On the confidence level of J.T. Ibe starting on Saturday…
“I think he’ll be ready to go. He’s done some things for us throughout the week. It’s nothing unusual from the past. It’s a strain he’s had before. He’s managed the situation before. We’re looking forward to seeing him play.”

On where the tight end room is right now with all the injuries and attrition they’ve dealt with…
“Well, we had discussed moving Chandler (Farrell) before the season started because we needed somebody that could block in the sea area. It turns out he’s done a nice job in the passing game as well. That was something we had discussed because of the different body type he gave us at that position. Kiel (Polllard) was obviously a guy from and experience and play-making standpoint that we were really counting on. Past that, we’re kind of where we are, where we thought we’d be at this time. Hopefully we’ll be able to get good news on Nick (Muse) here, because he’s going to be able to help us this year. He’s certainly a guy that can help our football team.”

On running back rotation breakdown for the game and the realistic expectations of Tavien Feaster coming in and contributing right away on Saturday…
“Well, we’ll discuss that moving forward and further into the week as far as those things are concerned. My expectation for him (Feaster) is that he’ll play very well. That ought to be his expectation too. Knowing Tavien, the short time that I’ve known him, that is his expectation. 

On how much he expects Phil Longo will do what he did at Ole Miss and what will be new…
“People do what they do and Phil has been a coordinator for a long time and been very successful at what he has done. 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 North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell and how they’ve gone about gathering information on him…
“We recruited Sam – 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.”

On the parallels from 2012 preparing for Johnny Manziel in terms of getting ready and trying to figure out what to expect from a guy who hasn’t played a collegiate game…
“Yeah, I think from the standpoint just that we did have an idea offensively of some of things that they were going to do going into that season of what Kliff Kingsbury had done offensively previously. You’re piecing together what you feel like they done before at like Houston and some of the different places they’ve been and what they might to do against us and how they may try to attack us. You try to use your educated best guess on what a team may try to do to you schematicallyThen again, on game day, you got to adjust to the people that are playing on the field. Those are things you don’t have any control over.”

On how Dakereon Joyner has responded to his new responsibility and if he’s going to play Saturday…
“Absolutely he’s going to play. He’s been great – very open attitude about everything – it’s been great. Nothing has changed with him. That’s who he is as a person. He handles everything in a first-class manner.”

On if he expects Mack Brown to have any tricks up his sleeve Saturday…
“Well I think obviously when you’ve worked with somebody, you get a good feel for things. Obviously, they’ll be some things up on special teams that he’ll have up every week. No different than us. That’s true with most any coaches that I’ve worked with. They’re going to have some things they’ll try to take advantage of to gain an extra possession as far as those things are concerned. He’ll have his team well-prepared and his staff will do a great job. We need to play well on Saturday.”

On Tavien Feaster’s business-like approach and how he’s adapted since he’s been here…
“I think exactly what you just said. He handles things in a first-class manner, comes to everything early, works his butt off, does everything that is asked of him. I’ve been overly pleased with Tavien and his work ethic and his buy in with everything he has done for our program. You research these things and you kind of talk to people and you say, ‘Hey man, this guy is a good guy. He’s a good program guy.’ It’s always tough when you want to bring a senior into a good locker room, which we’ve got a good locker room. He has been a great teammate.”

On how far back you go when preparing for a guy like Jay Bateman who has been around a while…
“Well, Jay was at West Point for a while. He had some years there, so that’s a lot of film obviously from West Point. Then, preparing for Ole Miss last year we spent a lot of time studying Sam Houston, so we keep our notes and kind of compare and go back. Obviously, when you have a lot of time before a game, you do spend a lot of time going back and making sure you’re crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s on all of your information.”

On Jake Bentley’s confidence for this season…
“He’s had a really good training camp. He’s very comfortable with what we’re doing offensively. Going into his first year he didn’t play the first six games and obviously playing helps. Going into his second year, first year as the starter, of being the guy. Going into his third year, got a new coordinator, new terminology and some new pieces around him. Familiarity brings confidence in what he’s doing and that’s what you see right now. He’s had a really good training camp and he’s got really good people around him. You look at Bryan (Edwards), Shi (Smith), Kyle Markway has had a really training camp. We’ve done a nice job up front. The backs have done a nice job. His familiarity with those guys, what we’re doing and where he is right now in his career, having 32 starts, he should be confident.”

On if this is as confident as he’s been at South Carolina heading into an opener…
“I think we’ve said it before that we think it’s our most talented team we’ve had and the deepest team that we’ve had, just going back to the different training camps we’ve had and where we are right now with our team. I think that’s a product of recruiting well and developing players well and I think that brings you a little confidence as a head coach.”

On the play of UNC’s Dazz Newsome in the Tar Heel special teams…
“Well, Newsome’s really good in space. He’s an outstanding receiver. He’s played both in the slot and outside for them a year ago. He’s a really good guy. As far as a punt returner, against Syracuse, he had a big return for them. He’s a guy we’ve got a lot of respect for. I think they’re really good at the skill positions. They have both Brown’s from Charlotte that are really good players. Those guys can really run on the top end. (Rontavious) Groves has been a really dependable guy for them in the slot and outside as well. We recruited a lot of their skill guys. We think they’re very talented as far as the skill positions. All three backs can play about anywhere in the country with both Williams’ and Michael Carter is a good back as well. But Dazz is a really good player, a guy that we have to do a good job in the coverage unit and in all situations.”

On what he wants to see from his team in this first game…
“Going out on game day and executing the right way. Not having self-inflicted issues as far as penalties and things that we don’t need to have on our football team. I challenge our players all the time about being an every-down dude and that’s doing all the things that takes no talent to do well. That’s your effort, that’s your physical and mental toughness, it’s your discipline and it’s your focus and do those things extremely well every game.”

On other freshman who will have roles on Saturday…
“Xavier Legette at the receiver position has done a nice job. KeShawn Toney at tight end has done a nice job for us. I think the offensive linemen that were listed, Jakai Moore and Vincent Murphy are both guys that we feel like really made some progress in camp. Ryan Hilinski, obviously at the quarterback position. Zacch Pickens up front and Joe Anderson has an opportunity as he’s certainly going to travel with us on game day. Jahmar Brown is on the depth chart and has had a really good camp. He’s a guy we’re excited about on defense and on special teams. Obviously, all the secondary guys. John Dixon’s had a really good camp. Cam Smith, Jammie Robinson and Shilo Sanders are all guys that will travel and contribute in some form.”

On what he’s seen from JJ Enagbare and Aaron Sterling at the defensive end slot…
“Aaron’s had a really steady camp, in and out. Just did a really nice job in the run and pass game. JJ gives us some edge juice in rushing the passer. He’s got some length on him but both guys complement each other extremely well and I think both guys have had really good camps. I’m excited about seeing them play on Saturday.”

On what Josh Vann did in the offseason to get to this point…
“He had a labrum surgery at Tucker High School in January of his senior year. He missed six months of lifting and went into last season not in great shape. He still contributed and did a really nice job for us as a freshman, but he had not lifted and then you get into the season and it’s more of a maintenance lift. You’re not gaining strength as far as those things are concerned. We challenged Josh in the offseason. You have to dedicate yourself to the weight room. You have to get stronger so when people play press coverage against you, you don’t get bumped around as much and be able to run through contact better. That’s made a huge difference for him. When you gain a lot of strength and strength numbers, which he has, it also gives you confidence as a player. A stronger player is a more confident player. That’s what I’ve seen of Josh. He’s a more confident guy and I think a lot of that goes to the strength gains he’s made in the weight room.”

On what it says for guys that came in June that will be able to help out on Saturday…
“I think it’s a testament to the evaluation and the recruiting process and it’s a testament to these young men coming in and having the maturity. People always ask me how do I need to play as a freshman? Number one, you have to have an opportunity and number two, if you have the ability, the most important ingredient next is the maturity. You have to be mature enough to handle training camp and handle the day-to-day installation and the grind of training camp and that’s really what young players struggle with. A lot of times, young players hit the wall in practice 12, 13, 14 or 15 because they have a hard time handling all the stuff. Those guys have all handled it pretty well as far as that’s concerned and we’ll continue to work through in the season on how much they will contribute and a lot of that will be based on how they play in the games.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

WATE 6 On Your Side Twitter