South Carolina’s defense is almost 100 percent healthy.
Will it be 100 percent cured from the illness of the Georgia game?
“We’ve all got to be better at that scenario,” South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said on Thursday. “Vandy ran hurry-up at their place last year. Everybody’s going to run hurry-up until we stop it. We understand that. So we practiced it this week, and hopefully we’re getting better at it.”
Players said that some of the defensive problems against Georgia came from not getting signals in from the sideline in time. Ward clarified that, saying the calls were coming to the sideline and being relayed in time, but the players weren’t getting to their positions quick enough. Sometimes, a small adjustment is all that stands between a stop and a first down.
With the way North Carolina and Georgia ran hurry-up offenses against USC, and with the problems revealed against the Bulldogs, Ward knows that Saturday’s opponent, Vanderbilt, has been looking at ways to exploit the No. 13 Gamecocks’ weaknesses. Not giving the defense time to set itself is the biggest target.
“Any time a team goes hurry-up, guys got to look to the sideline, get a call,” Ward said. “The call was given, it was just you got to get your eyes in the right place.”
Ward will have nearly the entire defense he thought he would have in the preseason before injuries set in. Kadetrix Marcus will start at strong safety after a shoulder injury, Victor Hampton will play and could start after an ankle problem (secondary coach Grady Brown will decide on the starting assignment before kickoff) and Jadeveon Clowney, despite wearing a walking boot on campus to ease the pain of the nagging bone spurs in his foot, is 100 percent.
The only player questionable is linebacker Cedrick Cooper, who has been out while rehabbing from a dislocated elbow, but Ward said Cooper will be in the mix at linebacker.
Ward revealed one change to his defensive personnel — freshman linebacker Larenz Bryant has been moved to spur. Bryant has been playing on special teams but has not recorded a tackle on defense.
“He’s an athletic guy,” Ward said. “After the Georgia game, we feel like we need a bigger, more physical guy. We knew going into this season that we didn’t have a DeVonte (Holloman) that could be physical on tight ends at the edge. Jordan (Diggs) and Sharrod (Golightly) are not there yet.”
Golightly should continue to start, but Bryant will play. The spur position, previously helmed by Holloman, Antonio Allen and Darian Stewart, who are all currently in the NFL, has been a turnover-producing spot for the Gamecocks since it was introduced. With zero turnovers in the first two games, Ward wanted to shake it up.
Steve Spurrier endorsed his 1-2 punch of quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson heavily over the offseason, saying that each would play, but he backed off of those comments as the preseason went on. Promoting a rotation went against what he says he always tries to do, which is tell one guy that he’s starting and it’s his game, unless he gets hurt or is playing so badly he has to be replaced.
Through two games, Thompson has one pass attempt, a touchdown against North Carolina. Shaw has played every other snap. That shouldn’t change against Vanderbilt on Saturday, as Shaw has played very well in his first two games.
USC’s offense has put up big numbers, averaging 28.5 points and 430 yards per game. Shaw has been the man in charge of that, averaging 188.5 passing yards and 59 rushing yards per game.
USC’s official equipment Twitter feed announced on Thursday that USC would wear garnet jerseys with white pants for Saturday’s game. It is the third uniform combination the Gamecocks have worn this year.
Players who did not practice or wore yellow jerseys were: Cody Waldrop (foot), Devin Washington (concussion), Carlton Heard (hamstring) and Mike Matulis (shoulder).
The Gamecocks will have a walk-through on Friday. It is closed to the public.