There’s a fine line between finger pointing and leadership, and whether Jadeveon Clowney and Victor Hampton were on the right side of it last week depends on your perspective.
“I commend them on saying that,” South Carolina senior defensive end Chaz Sutton said. “If it’s out there, the other guys should recognize that we need to get better as a unit.”
Clowney, a junior defensive end, and Hampton, a junior cornerback, spent more than seven minutes after the Gamecocks narrow win over UCF airing out the issues they saw with a defense that is ranked 11th in the SEC in points allowed heading into Saturday’s matchup against Kentucky.
“No, I’m not OK with that,” head coach Steve Spurrier said, adding he was happy Clowney and Hampton didn’t mention any teammates by name. “I think they said some guys needed to pick it up, and they’re two of them that need to pick it up, too. Unless somebody plays a perfect game, unless somebody coaches a perfect game, then they just worry about their positions. We had a great talk about that.”
Clowney, an All-American who already has declared that this is his final collegiate season, was the most forceful in his critique.
On the defensive line: “We just have to improve up front in the pass rush. I tell them every play, ‘Y’all have to come off the ball harder than y’all are doing because we are giving up too much time.’ They have like five or six seconds to throw the ball. You can run two different routes in that time.”
On the lack of production by veterans: “It’s the older guys coming off what we did last year. They think we are just going to walk on the field and just dominate teams. We ain’t the same team we were last year. That’s what we fail to realize. We don’t have the same guys behind us. We don’t have them great linebackers like that.”
When Clowney pointed out he has been slowed by a foot injury, Hampton interjected that everyone is battling some injury at this point in the season.
“Ain’t none of us 100 (percent),” he said. “We are all out there hurting and grinding. My foot hurts, too. I ain’t 100 either. You know what I am saying?”
The comments were an honest appraisal of a defense that hasn’t met expectations this season. But, were they what the Gamecocks need to kick things into gear?
Yes, says Sutton.
“The more we come out here and work the more we should come together as a unit,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys on this defense. It’s not the same as last year where we had 20- some seniors who could lead this team.”
Now, the Gamecocks have just five seniors, the fewest in the country, and some of the non-seniors are working their way into leadership roles, Sutton said. However, Spurrier says South Carolina and its defensive players would be better served by tackling than talking.
“We’re not worried so much about (developing vocal leaders),” Spurrier said. “That happens naturally for guys that play well and play over a period of time. The guys who are starting to become leaders are usually the guys that play well. They play well, and then they say, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ But we don’t need a lot of vocal. That’s not our problem. Our problem is just lining up and playing fundamentals.”
South Carolina is ninth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 381 yards per game.
Freshman linebacker Skai Moore, who is fifth on the team in tackles with 16 and may get more playing time this week, didn’t hear the comments by Clowney or Hampton but believes those players have earned the right to speak their mind, he said.
“They are guys that have been here long enough and they know what it takes to win,” he said. “They have won a lot of games here. I feel like anything that our captains have to say, all of us have to listen.”
South Carolina’s players are hearing the same things from their leaders in private that Clowney and Hampton said in public last week, Moore said.
“We’ve got athletes,” Spurrier said. “These kids can run and play. They don’t play real smart sometimes, but that’s called coaching. If we can get them to play fundamentally sound, I think we’ll be a much improved team as we go.”