A handful of South Carolina defenders are making plays and getting plenty of headlines, but that’s a little deceiving, assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said.
“We are a blue collar group,” Johnson said after the Gamecocks’ held Vanderbilt to 77 yards, the second-lowest total given up by South Carolina since at least 1966. “We are just ol’ simple pound cake. We got a few cherries, but when we talk about being in this conference, there is nothing special about the talent on this defense.”
After Saturday’s effort, the Gamecocks are sixth in the SEC in yards allowed (298.2 per game) and 11th in points allowed (25.8 per game).
“I have been coaching 36 years, and I have been around some great defenses. This is not one of them,” Johnson said. “This is a (darn) good defense. If we learn how to practice and play hard, we can be pretty good, and they are starting to realize that.”
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The Gamecocks defense practiced better last week that it has at any point this season, Johnson said.
“We were like, ‘Man we have to start stepping up on third down, with the pass rush and the coverage,’ ” freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “So that’s what we came out and did.”
Clowney had two sacks and two forced fumbles against Vanderbilt. Head coach Steve Spurrier had been advocating to see Clowney on the field more.
“I felt like he certainly needed to get out there and play most of the game,” Spurrier said.
Freshman wide receiver Dameire Byrd will return this week from his four-game suspension. Byrd was suspended for four games by the NCAA after the NCAA ruled he received $2,700 worth of extra benefits and recruiting inducements from the SAM Foundation.
“He’ll be out there playing,” Spurrier said.
Byrd was a star in preseason camp mostly due to his breakaway speed. He was a national-level sprinter in high school and proved very adept at catching deep passes in South Carolina’s preseason scrimmages.
The Gamecocks don’t expect to be without anyone due to injury this week other than cornerback Akeem Auguste (foot), said Spurrier, who credited the team’s conditioning for its good health.
“Give credit probably to our strength staff,” Spurrier said. “Craig Fitzgerald and his guys do a super job with them.”
Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Cody Gibson returned Saturday from a dislocated kneecap.
Through three games, South Carolina had given away 135 yards to penalties, the third-lowest total in the SEC. Against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks were penalized nine times for 67 yards.
Four of those nine penalties were called on offensive linemen, and Spurrier believes his line could have been flagged more.
“It seems inexcusable that we can’t play within the rules,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, we can teach our guys to play within the rules. That’ll give us a better chance.”
Spurrier indicated he wanted to give some new players a chance to start on the offensive line but couldn’t due to inexperience on the second team.
Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery
Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney