South Carolina coach Muschamp not fazed by Florida return
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is returning to Florida with his focus solely on beating the Gators and keeping his Gamecocks in the Southeastern Conference divisional race.
Muschamp is not wrapped up in emotions over his return to The Swamp or dissecting his four-year tenure at Florida.
Muschamp understands he'll shoulder much of the attention when South Carolina (5-4, 3-4 SEC) arrives at No. 22 Florida (6-2, 4-2) on Saturday. After all, the last time these teams met there in 2014, it proved to be Muschamp's last game with the Gators following South Carolina's 23-20 overtime win . He was let go two days later, spent last year leading Auburn's defense before getting a rare second chance to coach in the SEC with the Gamecocks.
He's not sure how he'll handle the atmosphere.
''I won't know until game day,'' Muschamp said Tuesday. ''I stayed at the office about the same as I stay at the office. I got to the office the same time. Nothing changes as far as the work week, whether we're playing Florida or anyone else on our schedule.
''We'll cross that bridge when we get to Gainesville,'' he said.
Muschamp hopes to leave Florida still with a shot for the SEC East. The Gamecocks started 2-4 and had the lowest scoring offense in the Football Bowl Subdivison through mid-October. But a switch to strong-armed freshman Jake Bentley has seemingly revived the sluggish team with three straight victories, including a 24-21 win over then-18th-ranked Tennessee two weeks ago.
A win over the Gators – and the right bounces among the other SEC East teams – could leave the Gamecocks on top of a pile of 4-4 teams.
Muschamp told his players the only way to make that happen is control what they can control.
''How do we do that?'' he asked. ''Beating Florida.''
It's a cry that's resonated before in odd circumstances at South Carolina.
Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, who had 2 1-2 tackles for loss in the Gamecocks win over the Gators, brought it up to a chagrinned Muschamp on Tuesday.
''Hey,'' the coach said with a smile, ''I needed to do a better job at the end.''
Steve Spurrier, Florida's Heisman Trophy winner and national championship coach, led the Gamecocks for 10 and a half seasons and often tore apart fan emotions on his visits back to Florida.
The Gators needed a blocked field goal try at the end in 2006 to escape with a 17-16 win – en route to a national title season – the first time Spurrier brought the Gamecocks in. Spurrier's crew clinched its only SEC East title in 2010 at The Swamp with a dominating 36-14 victory.
Now, Spurrier is back in his beloved orange and blue as an ambassador and consultant for Florida's athletic department, a position he held at South Carolina for a time after resigning as Gamecocks football coach in the midst of last season.
Linebacker Jonathan Walton, a starter in the 2014 Florida game, said the team expects to see Spurrier on the trip.
''And we're expecting to beat him,'' he laughed.
Muschamp was hired in 2011 to follow the ultra-successful tenure of Urban Meyer, who won two national titles with the Gators. Muschamp won 11 games and reached a BCS bowl his second season. But Florida faltered the next two years, going 10-13 before Muschamp was let go prior to the end of season.
He's got friends, including Spurrier, he'll be glad to see and accepts why he was fired. But ''we did some good things at Florida, too, so let's don't lose sight of that.''
Some of Muschamp's best work is on Florida's defense, third nationally in yards allowed behind Michigan and Alabama.
''It's definitely going to be something special for us who played for Muschamp to play against him,'' Florida senior defensive lineman Joey Ivie said. ''I know he's going to want to come in here especially leaving Florida and try to get a win.''
The Gamecocks understand what this win would mean to their coach.
''I'm sure I guess it's a redemption card for him,'' left guard Zack Bailey said. ''As a group, we're trying to continue our streak and play the best we can play.''
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida contributed to this report.
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