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Norwood not satisfied, eyes strong finish

South Carolina senior linebacker No. 40 Eric Norwood sacks Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead in the third quarter at William-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
South Carolina senior linebacker No. 40 Eric Norwood sacks Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead in the third quarter at William-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina launched a Web site this week to promote senior linebacker Eric Norwood.

Now the All-American hopeful intends to add some new highlight videos and records.

Norwood, a two-time All-SEC selection and USC's all-time sacks leader, has been mired in a midseason drought, from a statistical standpoint.

Norwood has gone more than five weeks without a sack, dating to the Gamecocks' 16-10 victory against Mississippi on Sept. 24. He had two sacks that night to give him 28 for his career and move past Andrew Provence atop the school's career list.

Since the Ole Miss game that was televised nationally for every SEC offensive coordinator to see, Norwood has faced a number of double teams, chip blocks from running backs and offenses on the lookout for where the Gamecocks' No. 40 lines up.

"It's been tough," Norwood said this week. "But it's opened it up for other guys (with) a lot of guys keying on me. Others guys are able to make a lot of tackles and make plays, and that's cool with me."

Despite the recent drought, Norwood has maintained a share of the SEC sack lead. He and Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap are tied with six, although Dunlap has played one fewer game.

Dunlap, a Charleston-area native who took an official visit to USC, edged Norwood for the sack title last season with 9.5 sacks; Norwood had nine.

"This is about the time that me and him turned it up last year down the stretch, going at it," Norwood said. "When we played them last year, we were talking during the game, talking junk. I hosted him on his visit when he came here. So we're still cool."

When Norwood reversed course last January and decided to return to USC for his final season, he cited team and personal reasons. The Gamecocks' season-ending, three-game losing streak left a bitter taste in his mouth. He also wanted to break Provence's sacks record and make a run at a couple of national awards.

After his fast start, Norwood was included on several midseason All-American squads. He is a semifinalist for the Lombardi, Butkus and Bednarik awards.

There are signs Norwood could be priming for a strong finish like last season when he bunched nine sacks in a three-week stretch against Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida, including a career-high three in a victory against the Razorbacks.

Despite the extra blockers he has drawn, Norwood has continued to get in the backfield and create pressure.

He narrowly missed a sack of Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton last week in a 31-13 loss to the Volunteers. Tennessee attempted 24 passes, the fourth time in five games an opponent has thrown 25 passes or fewer against the Gamecocks.

Fewer passes means fewer opportunities for Norwood to get after the quarterback.

"What's really happened is people aren't having to throw the football," USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said. "Between us not playing as well as we need to against the run and the scores of the games, when people get ahead of you by 20 points early in the game you're not going to see a bunch of balls in the air."

Although Norwood has not added to his sack total, he continues to make an impact. He blocked a field goal against Tennessee - the third kick he has blocked this season.

USC play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis said Norwood's presence has helped the Gamecocks' pass defense, the nation's third best with 141.3 yards allowed per game. Ellis said when teams keep a back or tight end in to help block Norwood, it leaves at least one fewer receiver for the Gamecocks to cover.

Ellis, the former USC quarterback, also has noticed quarterbacks setting up closer to the line of scrimmage in shotgun formation to account for Norwood's speed off the edge. Ellis believes the shotgun re-alignment affects an offense's timing.

"You can see other quarterbacks, even when they're getting the play off, the timing's not there," Ellis said.

Norwood, the SEC's active leader in sacks and tackles for loss (51.5), today will try to throw off the rhythm off Arkansas quarterback and SEC passing leader Ryan Mallett. Norwood should get plenty of chances to pressure Mallett, who attempts about 30 passes per game.

Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino will keep a close eye on Norwood, mindful that he often lines up at defensive end and occasionally blitzes up the middle.

"We definitely have to be aware of where he's at every play. And we've got to make sure that we give our tackles help when he's lined up at defensive end because he's so fast and so explosive," Petrino said. "You can't say enough about how hard he plays the game. He plays the game the way you're supposed to play the game."

That motor makes Ellis and others believe it is just a matter of time before Norwood starts breaking through for sacks again - and filling up his Web site.

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