For the USC defense, it was time.

Through the first 3 games, South Carolina had just 1 interception — in the opener — they couldn’t stop the run and was sketchy against the pass. Their lack of a consistent rush was evident and detrimental.

In the opener against Georgia State, the Gamecocks allowed 200 yards on the ground.

Mediocre performances followed against Arkansas and Georgia. One of the SEC’s stellar sections from last year had lost its luster. USC needed its defense to step up after a 1-2 start, notably seeing how its offense was spinning its wheels. They did in a Week 4 victory. Now, the key is to continue that momentum and continue to crawl closer to the 2021 standard.

Last season, the SC defense was ranked 7th overall in the SEC. They allowed an average of 24 points, 180 yards passing and 175 yards passing per contest.

This season, they’ve already allowed 40 points twice.

Injuries are partly to blame. Linebacker Mohamed Kaba and edge rusher Jordan Strachan were lost for the year with ACL injuries against Arkansas. Defensive back David Spaulding has been missing from the lineup with a leg injury.

Defensive coordinator Clayton White was criticized about his unit’s abundance of missed tackles and sloppy execution. Against Georgia, the defense missed 44 tackles, too high of a number even for a unit with multiple injuries.

Through the first 3 games, White stayed the course and didn’t panic. He went back to the proverbial drawing board and emphasized fundamentals. Against Charlotte, though, they stepped up with some of the regulars stepping back into their roles … but it took some time. After allowing 171 yards on Charlotte’s first 2 drives, they gave up just 121 the rest of the way.

SC ended the game holding Charlotte gunslinger quarterback Chris Reynolds to a season-low 143 yards passing, and held the team to its lowest point total this year.

The Gamecocks recorded 3 interceptions. Edge rusher Gilber Edmond registered his first career sack. Jordan Burch, who had been quiet the first 3 games, deflected a pass that was caught by linebacker Brad Johnson, whose play also didn’t raise many eyebrows the first 3 weeks.

Corner Cam Smith and safety DJ Smith joined the interception party down the stretch. Smith, a freshman, and fellow frosh Nick Emmanwori have helped hold the secondary together through some early tough times.

Emmanwori and DJ Smith – along with safety RJ Roderick – have made their presence felt, and they certainly will see their share of time down the stretch.

Heading into Thursday’s game against South Carolina State, Emmanwori is tied for 7th in the conference with 31 tackles, and Zacch Pickens is 2nd on the Gamecocks with 20 stops. Pickens has improved his play lately, but the senior’s ceiling was expected to be much higher after a 38-tackle, 4-sack season last year.

Darius Rush, who was counted on to have a big year, has been battling a hamstring and Devonni Reed has been slowed from a hip injury.

In spite of their recent second-half awakening against Charlotte, the Gamecocks are ranked 14th in tackling, last in the conference. They have a total of 272 stops with 3 sacks, 4 interceptions and 17 pass deflections. For certain, that is a circled area.

Overall, the Gamecocks are ranked 70th among Division I teams in yardage allowed per game, permitting an average of 403 per contest. Over their past 3 games, they have allowed an average of 433. USC has played to the comfort of their home environment, allowing 383 at Williams-Brice.

Breaking it down further, they have permitted 195 yards rushing per game  and nine touchdowns on the ground. They have allowed opponents a 22-for-56 3rd-down conversion, a 48 percent rate. Through the air, they have allowed an average of 250 per game and eight touchdowns.

Those numbers along with the others don’t indicate a unit that can clamp down on teams consistently.

Will it matter Thursday night against overmatched South Carolina State? Probably not. But the numbers will need to lower down the stretch if the Gamecocks have aspirations of reaching a bowl game.

South Carolina State mustered just 10 points in a season-opening blowout loss at UCF. They’re 1-2 on the season and are coming off a 41-27 loss against NC A&T.

For the Gamecocks, Thursday night should be about executing the plan and gaining vital reps for those pressed into larger roles than expected.

If all goes well, the defense will be tuned and ready for a pivotal showdown against No. 7 Kentucky in Week 6 and and No. 17th Texas A&M in Week 8.