There appears to be an expanding area of gray that separates gamesmanship from poor sportsmanship in college football these days. Those who talk trash, hit to the echo of the whistle and taunt opponents constantly walk that fine line between intimidation and instigation.
After allowing a few days for the dust to settle and the videotape to be reviewed from Saturdays game at LSU, it appears the Gamecock defense learned a couple of lessons.
At least that is the message one gets from Lorenzo Ward, USCs defensive coordinator. Ward has proven in his first season running USCs defense that he can sort through just about any predicament and find a solution. He did the same in both analyzing what happened at LSU and moving it forward.
Here are Wards findings:
• His defensive backs talked trash to LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger before the game.
• Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles punched LSU offensive lineman P.J. Lonergan in the facemask while Lonergan was on the ground during the game.
• If you are going to talk trash, back it up, and give credit to Mettenberger for turning that talk into a positive for his LSU team.
• There is no room in football for a player slugging another player, and Quarles will be suspended for Saturdays game at Florida.
Lets address the trash-talking issue first. Such banter happens before kickoff, throughout the game and sometimes beyond. Ward is of the belief such exchanges are actually waning these days.
I think it was bigger back when I played, said Ward, who played at Alabama more than two decades ago. Back in the Miami days, thats what they did. I was kind of a junk-talker myself. In (the SEC), theres probably less that goes on than when I was playing.
So, what happened prior to kickoff Saturday probably was not out of the norm for a game involving top-10 teams. But Ward clarified Thursday that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was not part of the jabber between the two teams. Ward said Clowney was never near Mettenberger before the game.
Ward said he heard his defensive backs tell Mettenberger that Clowneys going to get you.
Following LSUs 23-21 victory, Mettenberger told the Shreveport News and other media outlets that Clowney told him youre not going to make it through the game. Ward is convinced Mettenberger then took that message to his offensive linemen, who took it to heart and did not allow Clowney to get a sack on their quarterback.
That was smart on his part, Ward said of Mettenberger. That was smart on the quarterback to go feed it to his linemen.
Ward said he told his player prior to kickoff about trash talking, then met with the unit Monday with a similar message.
If youre going to talk trash, you better be willing to back it up, Ward said he told his defense. Thats the bottom line, if youre going to talk it, youve got to bring your A game. If you arent going to bring your A game, dont talk it. ... Its a big-boy game. If youre going to talk big talk, youve got to play like a big boy.
Ward was direct in discussing the Quarles incident. Ward said he watched a videotape on Tuesday of the punch thrown by Quarles and did not like what he saw.
We dont play football that way, Ward said. No matter what happened to you, whether you think you got a cheap shot, you play the game during the whistle. After the whistle is over, that extra-curricular we dont need.
There is no doubting that Ward has fashioned one of the nations top defenses. It ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 12 points per game. It ranks 12th nationally in total defense, allowing 296 yards per game. It also is the cornerstone to USC being an SEC and national championship contender.
The last thing Ward wants is for that unit to also be known for playing too much into that gray area between gamesmanship and poor sportsmanship. You get the impression Ward has taken care of that and it will not be an issue the remainder of the season.