South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward found a new weapon Saturday.
It’s not a player or a scheme.
It’s the bench.
Ward sat three Gamecock starters — cornerback Vic Hampton and safeties Brison Williams and Kadetrix Marcus — to begin the game against Arkansas. The trio, and South Carolina’s defense, responded with its most dominant performance of the season in a 52-7 win.
“We have been getting Ws, and at the end of the day it is OK, but to get a W like this makes it feel better,” Hampton said. “I am proud of my guys. We were prepared, and we trusted in each other.”
Hampton picked off a Brandon Allen pass on the second series of the game to help turn the momentum.
“One of the things I told myself this week is, when I do get my chance to get in, to try to show them that I should be starting,” he said. “It’s all about how you handle those situations. That was my first time ever being benched, so I challenged myself to come back and face adversity.”
The entire unit did the same. Arkansas ran 37 plays and had three first downs in the final three quarters. The Razorbacks threw for 30 yards and gained 248 overall, the fewest of any South Carolina opponent this season.
Ward was delighted with the way Hampton and Williams responded to the benching.
“I think they performed real well,” he said. “That was the first series Vic was in the game that he intercepted the ball. Hopefully, we won’t have to bench them anymore, and they will play their assignment when they are in there. As long as the bench is there, hopefully, they will stay focused.”
While Hampton and Williams played themselves back into the starting lineup, Marcus may have to wait a while to get his job back. Chaz Elder started in place of Marcus and played most of the game, finishing with four tackles and a fumble recovery. Elder and Williams now are the starters at safety, Ward said.
Elder “is athletic against the run,” Ward said. “He’s physical. He’s got more range. We probably should have gotten him on the field earlier than we did.”
Coach Steve Spurrier was happy to see his defense respond to his, and others’, criticism.
“We sort of challenged them a little bit to take it to the ballpark, and I think they did,” he said. “I think our players on defense played well.”
Allen finished 4-of-12 for 30 yards and one interception.
“He has thrown some interceptions this season, and we talked about that,” Ward said. “That plays in your mind. Ask Eli Manning. That was big to get that interception.”
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who started after missing last week’s game against Kentucky, had only one tackle but provided multiple pep talks to his teammates, Spurrier said.
“He was ready to play and he really added a spark to our defense,” Spurrier said. “He was fired up, giving little pep talks. It was good to see.”