Muschamp eager to start preparing for bowl game, next season

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is looking at more than just preparing for the Birmingham Bowl during his postseason practices.

Muschamp believes what the Gamecocks (6-6) do the next two weeks in prepping to play South Florida (10-2) on Dec. 29 will carry over with his team into spring workouts and next season.

''You can feel the buzz in the building,'' Muschamp said Thursday.

There was far less buzz at the midseason point of the year when South Carolina was 2-4 and couldn't get anything done on offense or defense. The Gamecocks, though, turned things around going 4-2 the second half of the season, including a 24-21 upset of then-No. 18 Tennessee to qualify for a bowl.

The resurgence means two more weeks of improving freshmen starters like quarterback Jake Bentley, tailback Rico Dowdle and receiver Bryan Edwards who otherwise would've been left to get better on their own before the next team workouts come spring.

Muschamp said he'll concentrate on fundamentals the first four practices - ''Seniors aren't practicing the first two practices,'' he said - before turning his attention to South Florida on Monday.

''It's all about us and how we can get better,'' Muschamp said. ''Hand placement, pad level, strike and play.''

Muschamp also does not think his players will be held back by how the regular-season ended with an embarrassing, 56-7 loss to rival, No. 3 Clemson , where the Gamecocks came apart after a couple of early scores by the Tigers.

''I'll look at the totality of the season and not one game,'' Muschamp said. ''There was a glaring issue that we had a bunch at the end of the day, our ability to run the football consistently against good people and our ability to stop the run on defense. We've got to get better.''

South Carolina finished last in the Southeastern Conference rushing at 138 yards per game, even with Dowdle gaining 100 or more yards in three of the last five games.

The Gamecocks did a bit better at stopping the run, ending ninth in the 14-team SEC in allowing an average of 202 yards on the ground.

Muschamp said it was more than any one thing that led to South Carolina's issues, including playing two freshmen quarterbacks this season, and all areas will receive attention during bowl practices.

One, the offensive line, will practice with a new, temporary face in charge. Retired longtime assistant John Latina will replace offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who was hired by Georgia State as its head coach last week. The Gamecocks brought in Latina, who worked with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper at Duke.

Muschamp he won't hire a permanent replacement until after the new year.

Muschamp is eager to see the extra practice time help young players like Bentley, who saw his first college action after South Carolina' struggling first half.

Bentley, at 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, jazzed up South Carolina's offense with his strong and accurate arm. He completed better than 66 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and just one interception his first five starts.

However, he and the rest of the Gamecocks crashed with a loud thud at Clemson three weeks back. Bentley threw for only 41 yards against the Tigers and the offense was outgained 622-218 in the blowout.

Muschamp is certain Bentley's past that poor performance and ready to help the Gamecocks show out strongly against the Bulls.

''We didn't do much very well,'' the coach said. ''We've gotten better in some areas, but I think we have a lot of improvement to make on both sides of the bowl.''

And the Gamecocks have a few more practices to make that happen.

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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