The South Carolina defense knows exactly what Wofford’s wingbone offense is going to do Saturday.
And then run some more.
But the question remains: Can the Gamecocks stop the Terriers’ ground game?
“We have to be disciplined, be sound in our fundamentals, and be sound in our techniques. We’ll have to do exactly what our coaches tell us to do,” said USC senior safety D.J. Swearinger, who is second on the team with 53 tackles.
Triple-option offenses can vex even the best defenses.
Wofford, which runs its wingbone to near-perfection, averages 357 yards per game on the ground, a figure that ranks second nationally among FCS teams. The Terriers (8-2), who are ranked No. 9 in the FCS Top 25, have finished in the top seven nationally in rushing among FCS teams for 15 consecutive seasons. They led the nation in 2010 and 2011.
This season’s team features senior fullback Eric Breitenstein, who has three of the top four single-season rushing marks in school history. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Breitenstein has rushed for 1,528 yards — at 7.1 yards per carry — and scored 15 touchdowns this season. He became the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards last week and has 5,223 yards in his career.
USC defensive tackle Byron Jerideau said the middle of the line will have its hands full with Breitenstein.
“He’s got good vision,” Jerideau said. “With the triple option, the main thing is discipline, staying in your gap, filling the gap and trusting the man beside you. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
The No. 12 Gamecocks (8-2), who allow 102.4 rushing yards per game, played a very good triple-option team last season in Navy, a game that showed how tough it can be to defend. The Midshipmen ran for 274 yards on 47 carries, an average of 5.8 yards, while losing 24-21 in a game they led going into the fourth quarter.
USC defenders understand they will have to be focused on their specific responsibilities.
“For the secondary, it’s all about eyes,” senior cornerback Akeem Auguste said. “We have to keep our eyes on our men because I think they only average seven passes a game. You’ve got to be ready for those little quick passes or misdirection or anything like that.”
Auguste is correct: The Terriers average seven passes per game. They average 58 rushing attempts per game, which puts far more pressure on the defensive line.
“For the defensive tackles, our main goal is to stop the fullback, and for the defensive ends, they’ve got to get the quarterback and the pitch (man),” Jerideau said.
The Citadel also brought its triple-option offense to Williams-Brice Stadium last season. The Bulldogs pounded out 241 rushing yards on 54 carries, but they lost 41-20 to the Gamecocks, who never had to punt after converting 6-of-9 third-down plays and 3-of-3 fourth-down plays.
“It was a close game. It really was,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “We made a bunch of third and fourth downs against them to end up winning.”
And even though Wofford runs the ball on 89 percent of its plays, the Gamecocks can’t afford to forget about the pass. Wofford’s quarterbacks have combined to complete 37-of-72 passes for 503 yards and six touchdowns.
“They can hit one on you if you are not alert for it,” Spurrier added. “Hopefully, we’ll have a solid plan and execute it.”