USC has won 11 games the past two years in large part because of a salty defense. If they get to double-digit wins this year it will be despite its defensive unit. Through five games the Gamecocks are still having a hard time consistently stopping teams. That includes Saturday night against Kentucky, a team that came into the game with one of the worst statistical offenses in the SEC.“We didn’t give up any long passes, so that was progress,” Steve Spurrier said after the seven point win over the Wildcats. “We don’t play real smart. We can’t tackle very well. I don’t know how you change that, but we’ll keep working with them.”
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was probably feeling pretty good about his unit until the fourth quarter. To that point the Wildcats had only put seven points on the board. But the Cats put 21 up in the final 15 minutes to make it a game, and they made it look pretty easy too. The same thing happened against UCF last week and in the Vanderbilt game prior to that. Fourth quarter collapses are not a good thing for a defense to be known for, but that’s kind of becoming the Gamecocks thing. Yes, special teams blunders have exasperated their issues, but there are legitimate flaws in the unit that have been thoroughly exposed. More often than not you are what you are through five games of the season which is why Spurrier seemed resigned to the fact this issues might not go away before the end of the season.
So what is going wrong? Well, the young linebackers are not playing well. This was a concern going in and it playing at as a worst case scenario there. The secondary is lost at times. Spurrier mentioned some guys doing their own thing out there, which is never a good sign when you have defensive players freelancing it. Also, as Spurrier mentioned, tackling is a problem. Whether the bad angles and poor form come from lack of experience or lack of technique, the Gamecocks are struggling to make those fundamental plays that have been a staple for them the past few seasons. Last but not least, you can’t gloss over the fact there are hardly any seniors out there. The Gamecock defense doesn’t have the vocal and emotional leadership it has been getting the past few seasons from people like Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman and DJ Swearinger-just to name a few. The spark, or the “Swag” as Swearinger used to put it, isn’t there anymore.
The fact the Gamecocks are lacking leaders on defense makes the weekly saga with Jadeveon Clowney even more of a distraction. Clowney couldn’t control the ESPN hype he got after his hit in the Outback Bowl, but he only has himself to blame for the smack talk at SEC Media Days and all of the unnecessary excuses about various injuries and ailments he and the defensive coaches claim he’s dealing with. Clearly Clowney caught his coaches and teammates off guard when he decided he wasn’t healthy enough to dress out for the Kentucky game. I’m not in the business of questioning the legitimacy and severity of an injury, but there is no doubt Clowney’s decision to sit out rubbed Spurrier the wrong way.
On one hand you have quarterback Connor Shaw returning to practice just two days after trainers said he would miss a couple of week with a shoulder injury because, as he put it, he didn’t want to miss any time in his final season. On the other you have Jadeveon Clowney catching his coaches off guard shortly before the game with word he doesn’t feel up to dressing out. The Gamecock offense was dominate Saturday. The defense, not so much. Look at the difference in leadership on those two units and you get an idea why.
Below we have defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward discussing Clowney and the play of his unit.