Could Gamecocks' defense actually get a breather against Bulldogs?
It may sound strange, but is South Carolina’s looming defensive matchup with Todd Gurley actually favorable?
Based on this season’s early statistics and recent history, the answer’s yes.
Two years ago when fifth-ranked Georgia strolled into Williams-Brice Stadium with College GameDay in tow, the Gamecocks limited then-freshman Gurley to a career-low 38 yards on 13 carries. Outside of a 15-yard burst on Gurley’s first attempt, South Carolina’s front seven dominated and jumped out to an early three-touchdown lead.
“They just played harder than us,” Gurley told The Macon Telegraph this week. “They played way harder than us. And that (Jadeveon) Clowney, I couldn’t get away from him.”
Last season in Athens, the Gamecocks trailed by four early in the fourth quarter before Aaron Murray heaved an 85-yard bomb to Justin Scott-Wesley on a busted coverage. Gurley finished with 132 yards and a touchdown while Mike Davis tallied 149 yards in the first head-to-head meeting during which Davis was South Carolina’s featured back.
Defending the pass has been the primary issue for the Gamecocks (1-1) thus far against a pair of Air Raid-style offenses. Currently, South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in total defense, sacks, third-down defense and takeaways based on teams who have played two games.
The coaching staff hasn’t panicked and pulled many positives from last weekend’s win.
“I think we all got better (against East Carolina),” said defensive line coach Deke Adams after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve still got a lot of work to get done. We’ve got to take it game-by-game and try to work on different things as we go and get better as we go.”
Georgia’s pro-style attack under Mike Bobo is much different than what South Carolina’s already seen, but more favorable perhaps considering a fewer numbers of total plays and the opportunity to substitute between snaps.
The no-huddle often gives defenses that haven’t generated pressure fits, but the Bulldogs rarely go up-tempo. Tackling’s been the issue early for a unit that replaced three starters in the secondary and three more up front.
South Carolina’s allowed 454 yards after the catch this season, more than any other Power 5 Conference defense.
With an extra week to prepare and game plan, the Bulldogs have to like what they saw on film from Saturday after East Carolina rushed for 132 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry against the Gamecocks despite its well-known proficiency through the air.
Ward attributed most of that yardage to South Carolina being in looks that were set up to stop the pass. He knows Georgia presents a different animal.
“It’s going to be different,” Ward said this week. “We’ve played two spread teams. Ideally, I would rather play another spread team because you want to keep improving against spread offenses. But that’s not what Georgia does. We know they’re going to be a team two-back, or a one-back team with a tight end most times. They’re going to run the football. We have to stop the run.”