No football genius is needed to recognize that South Carolina has problems on defense this college football season. What you might not have noticed is that this USC defense is bad of historical proportions.
In fact, this is the worst defense Steve Spurrier has fielded as a college head coach. It also is vying to become the most porous defense in USC program history.
“You guys watch it and see it,” Spurrier said of his club’s defense. “We’re just not very good getting off blocks, not very good tackling.”
Thus, USC’s defense is not very good at keeping opponents out of the end zone or from piling up large total yardage numbers. USC ranks 89th or worse in eight defensive categories among 128 FBS programs. In the categories that matter most, USC is 89th by allowing 437.5 yards per game, and 98th by permitting 32.8 points per game.
The defense was exposed in the season-opener when Texas A&M rolled up 52 points and 680 yards, and has not shown much improvement since. In the past two weeks, FCS-member Furman managed its second-highest rushing total of the season (211 yards) against USC, and Auburn posted 551 yards against the Gamecocks.
You have to go back a ways to find a USC defense that was this defenseless.
Perhaps the worst in program history was the 1995 squad under Brad Scott that allowed opponents an average of 35.7 points (99th nationally) and 419.2 yards (81st nationally).
That team clearly had to run up big offensive numbers to win, and it did just that in scoring 68, 77, 65 and 52 points in victories against Louisiana Tech, Kent, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, respectively. But those were that team’s only wins in a 4-6-1 season.
Three seasons later, in Scott’s final season, USC’s only win was in the season-opener against Ball State. That club surrendered 30 points (87th nationally) and 396.8 yards (81st nationally) per game in losing 10 consecutive games.
The only other one that comes close to matching this season’s defensive futility was the 1974 squad that went 4-7 under Paul Dietzel by allowing an average of 28.4 points and 419.7 yards.
It is difficult to compare those numbers to today’s, because there were no national rankings in defensive categories then. We do know that there were not the amped-up offenses of today in the 1970s, so allowing 420 yards per game probably was indicative of a highly suspect defense.
As for Spurrier’s defenses over the years, you have to go back to his Duke days to find units as leaky as this season’s at USC.
There were none at Florida, where his defenses annually ranked among the national leaders in scoring and total yardage allowed. His worst defensive unit there, by far, was the 1992 squad that allowed 22.8 points (57th nationally) and 343 yards (44th nationally). Not coincidentally, that was his poorest season – if you can call it that – at Florida with the Gators going 9-4.
All three of Spurrier’s Duke teams fielded suspect defenses, allowing 402, 402 and 407 yards and 22.1, 29.5 and 26 points per game from 1987 through 1989. Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n’ Gun” attack saved the Blue Devils those seasons. Typical of how his offense had to attempt to cover for Duke’s defenses were a 47-45 loss to N.C. State in 1987, a 43-43 tie with N.C. State in 1988 and a 52-35 victory against Wake Forest in 1989.
But Spurrier said even those Duke defenses did not struggle like USC’s has this season.
“No, not quite,” Spurrier said when asked about the Duke defenses. “Not quite where we are right now. Not quite like this.”
There is hope on the way, though, and that ray of sunshine for the USC defense comes in the form of struggling offenses at Florida and Tennessee. Florida ranks 73rd nationally in scoring (28.7 points per game) and 96th in total offense (368 yards per game). Tennessee, this week’s opponent, ranks 96th in scoring (23.9) and 113th in total offense (332.4).
It bodes well for USC’s defense to shore up weaknesses over the next couple of games. Should the Gamecocks fail to stop – or at least slow down – Tennessee and Florida, then their defense will have a well-earned title it really does not want: Worst ever at USC.