Gators well-versed in preparing for Muschamp-led defenses

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp returns to Gainesville this week. Muschamp was the Florida coach from 2011-14 and compiled a 28-21 overall record, 17-15 in the SEC. [Sean Rayford/Associated Press]

Just six Florida players remain from the Will Muschamp era, meaning some within the locker room are adjusting to their third head coach in five years.

But the Gators — and, in general, most football players in the SEC — didn’t need to sign with Muschamp to understand the challenge his defense’s typically present.

The Muschamp-led Gamecocks may not lead the conference in any defensive categories, but statistics don’t tell the full story. When UF and South Carolina meet at noon Saturday, the Gamecocks will have just three experienced safeties and will likely shuffle the secondary frequently throughout the contest.

Regardless of who exactly is trying to stop Florida’s offense, the Gators understand a Muschamp defense will bring a level of intensity similar to that of the head coach himself.

“Will is a defensive guy, and they play hard. That’s the No. 1 thing you always come back to, them playing hard,” Florida offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “(It requires) us being fundamentally sound, understanding our keys and reads, and coming off the ball.”

In the 21-point loss to Missouri, Florida’s offensive line didn’t display the gradual improvement head coach Dan Mullen has sought throughout the season, and he didn’t refrain from making it known. Mullen, pointing to two sequences of failed execution on the offensive line, pinned much of Feleipe Franks’ woes on the performance up front against the Tigers.

“Base defense, four-man rush, two guys wide open,” Mullen said, “and we miss two throws because the quarterback is getting hit (within) 1.6 seconds of the ball being snapped, with wide open receivers.”

Missouri had a stout front seven and it showed repeatedly throughout the Homecoming letdown, but USC doesn’t come in with nearly as much regard. The Gamecocks arrive in Gainesville a team struggling to get to the quarterback, as the defense is tied for 13th in the SEC in sacks with 15 this season. Muschamp has lamented his team’s issues with setting the edge and getting into the backfield this season, and the former UF coach’s return could spell a return to form for Florida.

Ultimately, however, it’s not an outcome the Gators are banking on. Because those who make up the UF locker room are no strangers to the historical lethality of a Muschamp defense.

“Y’all know (Muschamp), you know (Muschamp’s) defense. They’re always good. He’s going to try to come after us. He’s going to blitz for the run, blitz for the pass. But he can also sit back and drop eight,” Gators center Nick Buchanan said. “We just got to get back, get ready and stick to our technique and fundamentals, and match their game plan.”