South Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams gives the players under his watch a simple directive.
“My deal with those guys is, make the plays that come to you,” Adams said. “We don’t need any superheroes or anything like that.”
It seems a few more have come their way, especially the final week before the Gamecocks rolled into their bye.
After compiling 14 sacks in 13 games a season ago, South Carolina is already at 13 sacks with five more games on the docket. The total got a boost with three sacks, one short of tying a season high, and a season-best eight tackles for loss against Vanderbilt.
Adams described his unit’s progress with a platitude one will hear from just about every staff in FBS football — getting better every week but still with work to do. Although the sentiment is widely applicable, it seems particularly apt.
The 2014 Gamecocks defense ranked 118th in total sacks. The team has jumped up to 73rd, which leaves room for improvement with a scheme relying on the front four to get to quarterbacks.
Especially when the front four has five former four-star prospects available.
“We’re starting to pick it up towards the end of this stretch,” said defensive end Marquavius Lewis, a top-rated junior college prospect who immediately stepped into a starting role. “We’ve been working hard to accomplish things we know we need to.”
Lewis has come on strong the past three games, racking up 21 tackles and his first two sacks in a Gamecocks uniform. Adams said some of that connects to others playing better around him.
Tall, willowy end Darius English admitted the linemen felt as if they had not done that much early in the season. Going into the Vanderbilt game, they knew it was time to deliver some plays.
The edict came from the top and co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke.
“Coach Hoke really stressed that the defensive line hadn’t had a sack-fumble this year,” English said. “I really wanted to be the one to come out here and do that.”
He fulfilled that goal with a speed rush outside that spun the offensive tackle and ended with the ball being knocked free.
There could be some tweaks in the rotation with the extra time in the bye. Boosie Whitlow got his first career start against the Commodores, as David Johnson, who started the previous three games, did not play for what Adams called a mix of on- and off-the-field reasons.
But the coach also said the line has who it has, and wholesale changes are not likely.
The line will face an intriguing challenge when it does next take the field. On one hand, Texas A&M often deploys a hurry-up, quick-passing scheme, but neither of those things has prevented the group from ranking 84th in preventing sacks.
Beyond all the numbers, however, Adams wants his charges to stick to their process and ideally, as happened against Vanderbilt, the results will come.
“We’ve been playing hard all year,” Adams said. “We’re just starting to trust what we’re doing and trusting the system and playing our responsibilities. Sometimes upfront it gets frustrating when you don’t make a whole lot of plays. You’ve just got to understand the defense and what the defense is asking you to do. And when you have a chance to make plays, you make plays.”
Follow Ben Breiner on Twitter at @breinerthestate.