Vertical passing, physical O-line makes South Carolina very formidable
How about it, Gamecock Nation?
Virtually everyone counted the University of South Carolina out against the white hot Georgia Bulldogs — who came into Saturday’s tilt a sizzling 1-0 after disposing of Clemson University 45-21 in the season-opener.
Most pundits and critics were all but sure the “lowly” Gamecocks were about to get taken out behind the woodshed and shown a thing or two about Southeastern Conference football by the mighty troop from Athens, Ga.
With Texas A&M taking USC to that same woodshed — in a 52-28 drubbing — in both team’s season-opener, that aforementioned butt-whippin’ was a foregone conclusion in the eyes of anyone in the know.
South Carolina’s 38-35 triumph must’ve jolted the collective system of the college football scene and sent everyone into a tailspin.
Well, all but your’s truly (click here to read why I believed USC had what it took to knock off UGA)…
See, I’m a little more pragmatic in my approach. I touched on Week 1 overreactions in my pre-game breakdown, which were none more apparent than in the lead up to this game.
But if you objectively looked at both teams in totality, and turned a blind eye to media hype, you would realize that these teams were evenly matched starting the season talent-wise — and nothing had changed after a couple of weeks.
Both teams were apt to struggling with its secondaries due to youth and/or inexperience; both squads’ pass rush didn’t have a bonafide superstar and both were breaking in senior quarterbacks who have sat behind highly successful predecessors.
Furthermore, the overall defensive philosophy of both teams have been tweaked with USC morphing from a 4-2-5 defense to one with odd-front principles, and Georgia changing from former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s aggressive, multi-front approach to new DC Jeremy Pruitt’s aggressive, multi-front approach.
That’s right; for all the talk of Georgia being able to play faster on defense due to the change in philosophy, the Bulldogs seem to be playing the exact same way and USC QB Dylan Thompson took full advantage of it.
Here we see UGA throwing the kitchen sink at the Gamecocks defense: two-man game up front (T/E exchange), rolling coverage on the back end with zone underneath.
Originally this looks like Cover-1 man until the strong safety sprints back to give over-the-top help to the field corner and the free safety mirrors on the other side.
With zone principles underneath, the crossing patterns did the job of occupying the attention of the second-level defenders thus leaving the outside receiver alone for the stick route.
USC head coach Steve Spurrier undoubtedly saw this on film as he went to the well throughout the entire contest. Especially on money downs.
Thompson’s band of brothers at receiver: Shaq Roland, Nick Jones, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper and Rory Anderson all contributed in a major way, and Georgia had very few answers when the Gamecocks decided to drop back for a pass.
Here was one of better of the better diagrammed plays by the “King of Verticals,” Mr. Spurrier, himself. Going against two-deep coverage with man principles underneath, Spurrier calls Seam/Corner route for the “Y’s” — which doubles as an isolation route for the tight end Anderson.
With both targets to the outside of the Seam running corners, this disallows the safeties the chance to assist on Anderson running a pure vertical. And when you have an athletic “Y” like Anderson being covered man to man with an inside linebacker, nine out of 10 times it’s advantage offense.
On the flipside, South Carolina’s defense was equally inept when it came to stopping both the run and pass. But you can tell defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward wanted the ‘Cocks to get back to basics as they lined up in a ton of even front in this tilt.
While it’s not out of the realm of possibility to transition from an even- to an odd-front defense in one season, as the New Orleans Saints went from the all-time worst unit as a 4-3-based defense to a top-5 defense out of a “34” in one season, not all transformations are created equal.
But even in going back to basics South Carolina struggled with its fundamentals. It struggled to set the edge in run defense; it struggled with gap integrity and above all else it struggled with tackling.
Let’s be honest here; Georgia has one of the, if not THE, very best running backs in the nation in Todd Gurley. His physical running style is tough for any defender to deal with, but when you factor in he’s 6’1″, 230 pounds — running a 4.4 40-yard dash — you can plainly see the gravity of the situation.
But sometimes you just have to want to get the man down on the ground.
Here we see a play that exemplifies the above theory. Initially the Gamecocks did everything right: maintained gap integrity, scrape and flowed and set the edge.
Where this broke down was with the back-side pursuit. The back-side edge-defender got caught lollygagging on the play and took a bad pursuit angle when Gurley reversed field.
Gurley is already great enough without being provided help by a player being relaxed in his play. South Carolina’s defense isn’t talented enough to operate in such a manner.
Expect Ward to hammer that home henceforth.
Prospects Moving Forward
With a physical offensive line, led by left guard A.J. Cann and left tackle Corey Robinson, South Carolina will always be able to run the ball. It has quality depth behind star tailback Mike Davis — specifically Brandon Wilds who picked up the slack for a struggling Davis with 93 yards on 14 carries against UGA.
If Roland continues his ascension toward the player he was cited to be coming out of high school, then there’s no reason the receiving corps should ever be stopped. They have an excellent vertical game which keeps defenses honest, thus opening up the run game.
I’d like to the screen game continue to evolve, especially to the receivers. Jones is has excellent short-area agility and can turn a five-yard catch into a 50-yard gain.
Thompson is an excellent thrower of the football and has the courage to stare down the barrell of the gun — as it relates to being pressured by defenses. He’s a classic Spurrier-like QB who understands concepts and won’t be fooled by the same thing twice.
If the defense can just get back to basics — solid tackling and gap integrity — there’s no reason why this season shouldn’t turn out like most believed it would be in the first place.
The Gamecocks are back as if they’ve never left…