No one was more disappointed in South Carolina’s dud Thursday night than Lorenzo Ward, the Gamecocks’ defensive coordinator who incorporated a few three down linemen concepts into his playbook this season due to perceived depth at the line of scrimmage.
Ward watched from the sideline as Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill directed a well-oiled offense that accumulated 680 total yards, the most South Carolina has ever given up, and did what it wanted against a poor-tackling unit often caught out of position.
Dejected at the post-game podium, Ward took the blame.
“It starts with me as a coach and obviously I didn’t have the guys ready to play like I thought I did,” Ward said. “We have to take responsibility for our players as coaches.”
After the Aggies took an early 10-point lead, few adjustments were made and the Gamecocks looked out of sorts defensively. Tempo was an issue, players were tired and a secondary with three new starters at the back end was torched by a group of faster, more athletic wide receivers.
“We missed a lot of tackles in the open field and they tried to take advantage of our youth,” Ward said. “I don’t think it’s the system. Whether we’re in the 3-4 or 4-2-5, we got to tackle and play in space.”
Despite losing All-American defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles along with starting corners Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree, the Gamecocks thought they could generate a consistent pass rush to try and thwart Texas A&M’s pass-happy attack.
Instead, blitzes were picked up with precision, South Carolina had little pressure off the edge and Hill had several seconds after every snap to go through his progression and find the open man.
Quick to point fingers, Spurrier wasn’t happy with the holes in the Gamecock defense and challenged Ward’s new scheme.
“I had been reading like you guys have about our new 3-4 defense,” Spurrier said. “Did anybody like that 3-4 defense? I don’t know if it would’ve mattered if we played a 6-6 defense. I don’t know if 12 out there would’ve helped that much. We’ve got some coaching decisions to make to see if we can’t find a pass rush somehow.”
By the final horn, Texas A&M ran 99 plays and tallied 39 first downs, disparaging numbers for a South Carolina defense that has ranked in the SEC’s Top 5 in total defense three consecutive seasons.
“That’s the most plays I’ve ever been a part of as a defensive coach period,” Ward said. “We got to get better at tackling because East Carolina is going to spread us out just like Texas A&M did.”