TAMPA — His de facto job interview is scheduled for noon on New Year’s Day in Tampa, with approximately 50,000 observers expected.
Bryan McClendon, South Carolina’s interim offensive coordinator, has a chance to play-call his way into a permanent gig in the Outback Bowl against Michigan.
"Obviously game day’s important," Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said, "from a calling standpoint and from an adjustment standpoint."
Technically South Carolina’s co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach this season, McClendon, 34, was given play-calling duties this month when Muschamp relieved Kurt Roper of that role.
Under Roper, who was also Muschamp’s coordinator at Florida in 2014, the Gamecocks finished 13th and 12th in total offense in 2016 and ’17, respectively. His quarterback-coach duties will be handled by running backs coach Bobby Bentley, father of starting QB Jake Bentley.
"I think the preparation’s been really good, No. 1 by Bryan and by our entire offensive staff as well," said Muschamp, whose reconfigured offensive staff faces the nation’s third-ranked overall defense (268.6 ypg) and top-ranked pass defense (142.7 ypg).
"We’ve got a really good staff in place, and I’ve been very pleased with (McClendon’s) command with our team, our staff, our players. We’ve been very productive in our practices in Columbia, and also since we’ve come to Tampa, and I think he’s done a really good job."
While South Carolina isn’t expected to try to reinvent the wheel route under McClendon, who turned 34 on Thursday, the Gamecocks are expected to modestly increase the tempo and try a few wrinkles. Not that Muschamp or his players are revealing anything.
"I think it’s just bringing a sense of confidence," first-team All-SEC TE Hayden Hurst said. "Like I’ve kind of told y’all guys, we’ve been searching for an identity for a while. Having B-Mac come in with his confidence and Coach Bentley adding to that too, I think it’s gonna be good for us."
Michigan’s defense may be predictable. But the way defensive coordinator Don Brown thinks of it, his team’s scheme is simply tried and true. In the secondary, the Wolverines typically stick to a man-to-man defense. And this season, that strategy has paid off.
The Wolverines rank first nationally in passing yards allowed, giving up 142.7 per game. Michigan also ranks fourth in tackles for loss (8.5 per game) and third in total defense (268.6 yards per game).
"If you play more zone, they’ll say, ‘Why don’t you play more man?’ All I know is, where did we end up in pass defense in the country? I mean, what do you want from me?" Brown said after practice Friday afternoon. "My point is, we’ve had 12 opponents, 11 of them we’ve held under 200 yards."
Even better news for Brown, the Michigan defense is young, and it will likely only lose a handful of players to graduation and the NFL draft. What he’s hoping for improvement on, however, is the Wolverines’ ability to force turnovers and their defense against the run.
Giving up nearly 126 rushing yards per game, Michigan ranks 20th nationally against the run. For Brown, that’s just not good enough.
Still, LB Mike McCray doesn’t have any doubt that they’ll shut down the Gamecocks on the ground.
"We have a scheme that’s prepared for this game, and just do our assignments," he said. "If we do that, then we’ll be perfectly fine."
Do we hear 32?
In a Thursday sound bite that surely made Outback Bowl officials cringe, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he’s in favor of the bowl system but would like to see the College Football Playoff expand to 16 teams.
Muschamp seemed warmer to the current four-team format. "I think that bowl games are really important for college football," he said. "You know what, at four teams (in the playoff), the fifth team’s (ticked) off. There are 64 teams that play basketball (in the NCAA Tournament), and we’ll have shows on Sunday night, and the 65th team, their coach is (ticked) they didn’t get in the tournament."
Odds and ends
Players, coaches, cheerleaders and bands from both schools will convene near the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort today for the Outback Bowl’s annual Clearwater Beach Day. The event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. … Attorney General Pam Bondi dropped in on South Carolina’s practice Friday morning at Jesuit High, chatting briefly with Muschamp afterward. Bondi is a University of Florida alumnus. … With a victory Monday, Muschamp — 14-11 at South Carolina — would tie Joe Morrison and Steve Spurrier for most wins by a Gamecocks coach in his first two seasons.
Times correspondent Kelly Parsons contributed to this report. Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.