Will Muschamp has been pigeonholed as a defensive-minded coach his entire career, and often rightfully so. But the truth is the Muschamp-led Gamecocks have largely stayed afloat in the SEC this season on the back of the offense.
With junior quarterback Jake Bentley, South Carolina has the No. 5 passing offense in the SEC this season, and the unit’s production likely wouldn’t be possible without upperclassmen wide receivers Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel.
The pair have made for a dynamic duo, combining for 74 receptions, 963 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns in 2018 — although the senior Samuel is arguably a greater threat on special teams, and he’s coming in hot. Just last week, Samuel recorded his first special teams touchdown of the season in USC’s 48-44 win over Ole Miss. It didn’t just give Samuel his fourth career kick return touchdown — with the 90-yard score, Samuel now owns South Carolina’s program record in kicks returned for a touchdown.
But Samuel didn’t stop there. WIth the outcome still hanging in the balance, the speedy six-footer set up another Gamecocks score with a 38-yard return in the fourth quarter.
Suffice to say, it appears wise not to kick in Samuel’s direction. Although the Gators have problems of greater concern at the moment following a consecutive defeat, those in charge of the defense seem aware of the challenge the Gamecocks present downfield. The blueprint is the same: if Bentley is able to gash UF’s secondary, it could allow the Gamecocks to have their way with the Gators.
“The quarterback, you can tell that he has a good football IQ, as far as understanding where to throw the ball, how to get it out. He has playmakers outside that he’ll work to get them the ball. They have tempo, which allows them to, if you’re not on your game, you can get behind and one play can affect the next play,” Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “You’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen. I think they’re well balanced in what they’re doing, both run and pass. They’ve got some skill guys that make plays, and they score points on guys, so we’ve got to make sure we show up.”
While UF freshman kicker Evan McPherson is focused on kicking away from Samuel, the Gators’ defense will look to corral Edwards — a playmaker that junior linebacker David Reese indicated might have more talent as a offensive threat than Samuel possess. It makes sense, too, as Edwards has been the more consistent threat throughout eight games this season.
Unlike any Florida wide receiver, Edwards has caught at least three passes in every contest while recording fewer than 42 receiving yards just once this season. There are few reprieves in the SEC, and only time will tell if the Gators’ defense is up to the tall task of stopping USC’s potentially lethal downfield attack.
“They got two great wide receivers, I don’t even know if (Samuel is) the best one. He and Edwards are both wide receivers that have been on the scene of college football,” Reese said. “Those guys you’ve got to respect, not only on the offensive side of the ball, but also special teams. I know they think they can come in here and beat us. They’re confident, they have no doubt about that, but it’s just we got to outwork them now.”