Not time to fire South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, yet
No one’s more disappointed with South Carolina’s defense than Lorenzo Ward this season.
After the Gamecocks’ first practice in August, Ward said there was ‘a little something different about this team’ and was excited about the opportunity as a preseason Top 10.
As we head into November, that much-anticipated glow and sense of optimism never materialized.
Now in his third year as the Gamecocks’ defensive coordinator and sixth as an assistant on Steve Spurrier’s staff, Ward’s watched his players miss tackles, forget assignments and get pushed around at the point of attack throughout this team’s 4-4 start.
As if two blown double-digit leads in the fourth quarter weren’t enough, last week’s performance at Auburn materialized. Arguably, it was more gut-wrenching than the season-opening loss to Texas A&M which featured Kenny Hill’s premature coming out party.
South Carolina, moving at will on offense thanks to an excellent plan from Spurrier, desperately tried piecing together a few empty possessions defensively, but the Tigers shredded the SEC’s worst defense against the run. Auburn gashed Ward’s unit with 551 total yards and 42 points, gaining 8.9 yards per play.
During six consecutive scoring touchdown drives in a two and a half-quarter stretch, Auburn faced only four third downs.
It was a ghastly performance from a viewer’s perspective, but even worse for Ward who caught the action from a bird’s eye view in the coaches box, far away from a frustrated sideline.
It’s not all his fault, however.
The go-to punching bag for postgame and mid-week radio and message board fodder, Ward isn’t equipped to succeed with the current talent on the defensive side of the ball despite receiving the brunt of the blame. Plagued by inexperience in the secondary and the lack of development up front, he’s working with what he has — which isn’t much.
Execution, not preparation and scheme, has been the primary issue. At some point, getting off blocks and being in position to tackle falls on players.
South Carolina’s eight total sacks this season ranks 118th in college football, a statistical anomaly after three consecutive 11-2 seasons. The numbers is conducive to losing football games. Of the 10 teams behind the Gamecocks in the category, nine have losing records and the other, Navy, is 4-4.
It’s an obvious personnel issue considering Ward’s defenses have ranked in the Top 20 nationally in yards per game and points allowed each of the last two seasons. Losing Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton in the secondary has been just as detrimental as Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles departing at the line of scrimmage.
Solid defense begins with a pass rush and that’s been non-existent for Ward’s group this fall.
South Carolina’s statistical nightmares reflect it.
Heading into Saturday night’s game against Tennessee, the Gamecocks have forced nine turnovers — one fewer than Vanderbilt’s total in the East — and have given up a league-high 20 rushing touchdowns. They’ll be playing without leading tackler Skai Moore who’s out with an ankle injury.
The widespread assumption is that Ward’s days are numbered and he won’t get a do-over if things go South in the final four games. Firing Ward comes as a massive overreaction following a single underwhelming season and would, at least temporarily, disconnect South Carolina’s recruiting pipeline in the greater Atlanta area.
It’s a down year for the Gamecocks defensively and it won’t be fixed until South Carolina welcomes a number of potential early-impact replacements on National Signing Day in February.