COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For as long as Nick Saban has been a head coach in college football, none of his former assistants have been able to hand the coach a loss against their former boss.
This week, Will Muschamp gets a shot at taking down Saban and the visiting No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Muschamp worked under Saban during their time at LSU. During their tenure, the Tigers won the BCS National Championship in 2003. The time Muschamp spent with Saban has definitely had an impact on how he has run programs as a head coach.
"I learned a lot,” Muschamp began. “Obviously from a scheme standpoint, you have to be philosophically aligned with him as far as how he sees the game played, offense, defense, and special teams. Obviously, from a scheme standpoint, I learned a lot. The evaluation process and the recruiting - as far as the critical factors we look for and define for every position. I think we took that even a step further when I went to the Miami Dolphins and was a part of the draft, going in and working players out and really narrowing down exactly what we look for by position.
“The evaluation process I think has really helped me and our programs moving forward. As far as an offseason program, we do very similar things - how we install in training camp, how we install in spring ball, how we do spring ball. Our summer programs are very similar as far as the players are concerned and what we do. How we practice is very similar to what we did when I was with Nick. We've carried over a lot of things that obviously work extremely well.”
Now, Muschamp will have to match wits with his former boss as the Tide returns to Columbia for the first time since 2010. That was the year the Gamecocks upset Alabama, who was ranked No. 1 at the time. While Muschamp wasn’t with the Gamecocks at the time, he certainly knows the impression it left on fans in Columbia.
"It was an awesome game, an awesome victory here at the University of South Carolina,” Muschamp. “They beat the No. 1 ranked team in the country. There's no doubt it. It was a great game, a great atmosphere, and I know it will be a great atmosphere on Saturday as well."
To come away with a win over Saban and the Tide, the Gamecocks will have to deal with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The junior is 42-of-55 passing this season for 563 yards and seven touchdowns. Tagovailoa can be deadly through the air and on the ground and Muschamp understands keeping the 2018 Heisman runner-up contained.
“Tua is an outstanding player,” Muschamp said, “very accurate with the football - close to 80 percent this year as far as his completion percentage. He has legs. He can create off-rhythm plays, as we say, that are very difficult to defend. He's throwing it to really skilled guys down the field, but he's a really good football player.”
In the passing game, Carolina will have to keep an eye on Jerry Jeudy. The Tide’s top receiver has 18 catches for 240 yards and four touchdowns. For the Carolina secondary, the challenge of limiting Jeudy’s impact is one they’re looking forward to.
“You want to go against the best,” said Muschamp of his defensive backs Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, who will likely shadow Jeudy. “That's why you want to come to a place like South Carolina. Week in and week out, you're on the best stages in college football."
Defensively, Alabama continues its tradition of being stout against opposing offenses. The Crimson Tide has allowed just 13 points so far this season while coming into Saturday’s game as one of the top 20 defenses in the country when it comes to total defense. Knowing the challenge that lies ahead, it’ll take a team effort to help freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski succeed in his second career start for Carolina.
“We have to obviously, protect the passer,” said Muschamp. “Let's create something in the run game. Let's catch the ball down the field. Defensively, let's gain some field position, some momentum in the game, do a great job on special teams controlling the vertical field position. All of those things are all the same for every week to help whether it's a veteran player or a young player be more successful and that's what we're trying to do."
While this may be Carolina’s first time seeing the Tide in nearly a decade, one Gamecock has actually lined up against Alabama a few times before. Running back Tavien Feaster has been in matchups against Alabama and come away with two national titles. While he may have the hardware from those contests, he’s been emphasizing to teammates all week how tough this challenge will be.
“It’s going to be a fistfight, a four-quarter game,” said Feaster. “They’re not going to go away and we’re not going to go away. So, it’s going to be a tough game.”
South Carolina hosts No. 2 Alabama at Williams-Brice Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.