South Carolina football: The Gamecocks' secondary is coming full circle
This was supposed to be the season that South Carolina’s secondary would have the radiance of a 10-karat diamond. It reached its status as one of the nation’s most glittering foursomes last season.
Instead, it has spent the majority of the season with the luster of a cubic zirconia. Yet the Gamecocks’ unit had managed to produce enough shine, especially in the past few weeks.
Overall, the defense has made its presence felt, leaving some areas of concern. Yet the secondary can be the glue that patches it all together over the final weeks of the regular season.
The secondary has endured more than its share of injuries, and other factors have helped make any sense of continuity challenging. In its recent victory against Vanderbilt, USC had 8 players who logged time in the secondary.
Still, the Gamecocks have managed to regain respectability and cohesion in recent weeks. They’re 1st in the conference in interceptions (11), 1st in passes defensed (41) and 9th in total pass defense, though they are tied for last with just 13 sacks.
The Gamecocks began the season with projected starters Cam Smith, Darius Rush, David Spaulding, Marcellas Dial and R.J. Roderick. Devonni Reed joined as a highly touted transfer from Central Michigan. Freshmen Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith impressed in camp, creating instant depth. Emmanwori has been named a finalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award.
But then the back bunch began to look more like a MASH unit, scrambling to put all the pieces in the right places.
Spaulding, Rush and Reed missed significant chunks of playing time due to injuries, and Emmanwori and DQ Smith began to look like seasoned veterans with their play. Roderick decided to enter the transfer portal, which certainly didn’t help matters.
Unfortunately, luck and fate continue to take a crooked path. Spaulding didn’t make the trip to Nashville, and he apparently will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. Reed still isn’t up to full speed, and he has been working his way back into the lineup.
Rush, a senior who is considered to be on NFL Draft boards for next April, has emerged in his anticipated role as a leader. He nabbed an interception on Vanderbilt’s 1st drive last week. Rush and Dial are tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions each.
The unit has been active in passes defensed, with Dial having 6, DQ Smith and Cam Smith 5, Rush 4 and B.J. Gibson 3. Gibson had an MRI scheduled on his hamstring Monday.
Head coach Shane Beamer has appreciated Rush’s efforts and guidance.
“Darius is doing a great job of being a leader,” said Beamer. “We’re starting 2 true freshmen in the secondary, and you’ve got to have that leadership that he (Rush) is showing. He truly showed it in the Vanderbilt game.”
Beamer has been impressed with the proverbial turnstile of secondary personnel.
“We are rolling a lot of guys in there,” added Beamer. “But I think those guys continue to do a great job. Give (defensive backs coach) Torrian (Gray) credit. We’ve got guys back there that can play in multiple positions, and we’re going to have to do that down the stretch.”
It begins late Saturday afternoon against Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, who looms as a dual threat. Richardson threw for 201 yards and ran for 78 in last week’s victory over Texas A&M. For the season, Richardson has thrown for 1,839 yards and run for 492. However, he could play right into the Gamecocks’ hands, having 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
The Gamecocks are allowing 7.79 yards per attempt and 231.89 passing yards per game. They have been burned for just 11 passing touchdowns, 2nd in the league.
Overall, the results have been somewhat predictable with a unit that hasn’t let the bandage break.
“You don’t really see a ball caught over 10 yards, really not even over 4 or 5,” Cam Smith said. “We’re just making sure we hone in on the details and things like that, and bringing our game every day.
“Y’all see that it (secondary) can be scary.”
It again will get its chance Saturday.