The defense South Carolina deployed against The Citadel looked much different than usual.
The Gamecocks played three linebackers throughout, with Jonathan Walton in place of spur T.J. Gurley. Starting safety Jordan Diggs was nowhere to be seen with Gurley moving into his place, and outside linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams took most of Skai Moore’s snaps after the junior missed practice during the week for a funeral.
None of the changes worked.
South Carolina went bigger and more rugged to counter the Bulldogs’ triple option, and simply got beat again. The total output of 350 rushing yards looks bad, but the fact it came on 5.7 yards per carry made it all the worse.
“The biggest part of this game was two big runs, two explosive runs for touchdowns, and then we let an explosive pass up,” co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said. “Those are problems that we have.”
Twenty-five of the Citadel’s runs went five or more yards, and their per-carry average was basically the same as their season average against FCS foes and Georgia Southern.
The Bulldogs’ attack is built on having a small set of plans that work in a wide variety of situations. That’s how wingback Cam Jackson (106 yards, one touchdown) got to the edge on an option pitch on his team’s second play, racing 59 yards to set the tone.
The threat of the second and third legs of the option opened the hole that let fullback Tyler Renew (174 yards, two touchdowns) race nearly untouched for the go-ahead score. Two safeties and a linebacker were around the play, but all flowed too far outside and were out of position.
Even quarterback Dominique Allen, whose numbers were fairly pedestrian, made some key runs up the gut to extend drives.
How did this happen against a Gamecocks defense that was bigger, stronger and pretty fast?
“We really couldn’t match their speed in practice,” said middle linebacker T.J. Holloman, who had three tackles. “The option that they ran, in practice, it was slowed down.
“We were like, ‘Whoa, that’s what they’re coming here to do.’”
Moore, the defense’s leader, played only a few series as the staff wasn’t comfortable playing him heavily after missing preparation time. That said, coaches said he was fine when he did play, and Allen-Williams had a couple of nice plays in his place.
But with one key reality, it’s hard to tell what would have made a difference.
“They ran their stuff really effectively,” Holloman said. “Came out there, played hard, outmatched us. We had plays to make, and we just didn’t make some of those plays.”