One of the themes of the 2013 season was South Carolina’s frighteningly young group of linebackers.
There was no way to get them to grow up unless they got put in games, and there was no other way to get around it.
Following another 11-2 season and a game where the defense was gashed early and came through late, the linebackers did what Lorenzo Ward thought they would — got a whole lot better and promised a great future.
USC’s baby ’backers had fine seasons. Skai Moore finished Wednesday with five tackles and intercepted two passes. Kaiwan Lewis led the team with nine stops, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. T.J. Holloman and Marcquis Roberts also played well.
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The Gamecocks suffered early in the season, but still won a lot of games. About the time USC was completing its comeback against Missouri, the notice of the linebackers became much sunnier. Instead of “Boy, they’re young,” it became, “You know, they’re not dominant, but they’re so much more fundamentally sound.”
Now that the season is over, the line is, “They played pretty well.” Next year, they should benefit from it.
The Gamecocks will need a lot of leadership on defense next year, since they’re losing Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles, Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton. Moore and Lewis, despite being sophomores, will be relied on for that leadership, along with spur Sharrod Golightly, who shook off a first-half suspension on Wednesday to finish with three tackles, including one on fourth-and-1 to squelch a Wisconsin drive.
Ward, who took over USC’s defensive reins before the Capital One Bowl two seasons ago, has seen his defense remain among the SEC’s best. After seeing his plan succeed this year, that shouldn’t change in Year Three.