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USC defense moves to the front

South Carolina senior linebacker Eric Norwood causes a fumble on this hit on Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith during the third quarter.
South Carolina senior linebacker Eric Norwood causes a fumble on this hit on Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith during the third quarter.

The numbers at halftime for the South Carolina defense were staggering - in a bad way.

Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith was spectacular, to say the least. The senior, who is considered an NFL prospect, was 14-for-18 for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, the Gamecocks barely had dirtied his uniform dirty.

USC forced Smith to throw under pressure just one time and did not sack him in the first half. That was part of the reason Florida Atlantic entered halftime trailing by one point and believing it could knock off an SEC foe for the first time.

But Ellis Johnson made a second-half adjustment that allowed USC to shut out FAU over the final 30 minutes and escape with a 38-16 victory Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"We went to the four-man front," Ellis said, "and I think some of them did some good things, but it's not as stout or strong in there right now as we need to be."

Due to an ankle injury to tackle Nathan Pepper Ladi Ajiboye serving the final game of his three-game suspension, USC played the majority of the first half with three down linemen. Travian Robertson was usually flanked by defensive end Cliff Matthews on one side and either Devin Taylor or Clifton Geathers on the other. Linebacker Eric Norwood sometimes lined up near the line to add support, but Smith was never pressured and running lanes were open in the first half.

"We tried to run the three-man front early in the game, and that's where a lot of the cutbacks were happening," Johnson said. "That package is for mixture, it's not (our) base (package), but it was something we had to do to get through it."

Melvin Ingram joined Robertson at the tackle position most of the second half, and the Gamecocks forced the Owls into three turnovers and kept them out of the red zone on all but one possession. That drive ended when FAU failed to convert a fourth-and-1 pass from the 4-yard line.

The Owls totaled 209 yards of offense in the first half but 118 in the second - and Smith was sacked twice.

Stephon Gilmore opened the second half with an interception on the first play. Two FAU possessions later, Eric Norwood caused a fumble by Smith that Cliff Matthews recovered. The Gamecocks converted those turnovers into 14 points.

Gilmore said the defense wasn't happy with the first-half effort.

"It was frustrating," Gilmore said. "We didn't think they could stay with us if the defense could hold. We just played better in the second half."

With Ajiboye returning for Thursday's showdown with Mississippi, Norwood hopes to see an improved effort during a the short week of practice.

"It means we need to go out there and play like that for 60 minutes, not 30," Norwood said. "It's a matter of preparation. I think it helped to move to the four-man front. Even though we don't have that much depth, but I think it still helped though."