Travian Robertson is headed to the NFL playoffs as a defensive lineman for the Atlanta Falcons.
South Carolina fans still owe him a debt of gratitude for the Gamecocks’ success this season. It was Robertson’s departure that birthed the team’s “rabbits” defensive line package which uses four defensive ends across the front in passing situations.
Last season, Robertson, a defensive tackle, was so valuable in the middle that he rarely came off the field, and South Carolina surrounded him with three defensive ends in passing situations.
“We didn’t think we had as much power inside after losing Travian so we felt like what we wanted to do to counteract that in passing situations instead of having a guy push the pocket, let’s put more speed out there,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We totally dedicated ourselves to playing with four ends in passing situations season.”
The “rabbits” package has been a huge success for the Gamecocks, who are No. 5 in the nation with 40 sacks. All four members of the alignment – Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton, Aldrick Fordham and Devin Taylor – have at least three sacks.
“I think what teams will do is they will say, ‘If they are going to put their small guys out there, we’re going to run the football,’ ” Ward said. “As a coach you have to understand that and you have to call stunts to stop the run. We do a great job of stopping the run in that rabbit package.”
Ward has never seen another team use four defensive ends at the same time, and he expects imitators, he said.
“That’s what the game of football is,” he said.
Stoking the fire
Prior to the Nov. 24 Clemson game, Ward told Clowney that former South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram had six sacks the previous season against the Tigers. Ward knew that wasn’t true, but he also knew how to push his sophomore All-American’s buttons.
Clowney responded to the manufactured motivation with a South Carolina single-game record 4.5 sacks. On Sunday, Ward seemed to go back to that same well, making Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan out to be an immovable object.
“Clowney is going against an All-American tackle,” Ward said. “Given up one sack all year from what I hear.”
Lewan is good, no doubt. The junior likely will be a first round NFL Draft pick if he enters the draft this year, and he was named the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year. But Ward seemingly was inflating his resume a bit. He was named an All-American, but only by CBSSports.com as a second-teamer, and there’s no mention in Michigan’s extensive game notes of him giving up only one sack.
“I think it’s a challenge for Jadeveon, and I fully expect him to come into the game and play well,” Ward said.
Feeling fine. The Gamecocks have been relaxed during their preparation for Tuesday’s game, Ward said. In fact, they have been relaxed most of the season, he said.
“Friday night before the Clemson game, coach (Steve) Spurrier “said, ‘For some reason y’all seem real loose,’ ” Ward said. “I think it’s the personality of this team. I think they know what we have to do. They understand what we are doing scheme wise, and they are confident in their abilities. There is an air of confidence about the guys.”
At full strength
All the Gamecocks’ defensive contributors are healthy, Ward said.
“We have been blessed so far,” he said. “All the guys who have been banged up are well. It looks like we’re playing real fast.”
“We don’t care. They both can run the football. They both can throw the football. To us, they are the same guy. We play against a running quarterback every day in Connor Shaw.” – Ward on whether Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner plays quarterback for the Wolverines
Sunday practice highlights