David Cloninger

Defense’s non-adjustments could have led to different result

I guess it’s just things evening out. Through six games, South Carolina’s offense was putrid while the defense was valiant. In the seventh, the Gamecocks’ offense got better, while the defense played terribly.

I won’t call it the worst game of the season because USC won. But man, USC’s defense, which has performed yeoman’s work in the first six games, was abused by UMass on Saturday.

Their containment off the edges was horrible. Their efforts to contain the run in the middle were awful. They sat in a soft zone and dared Andrew Ford to pass, which he did 42 times for 20 completions and 247 yards. They continued to line up 8 yards off in single coverage on tight end Adam Breneman, who caught nine passes for 94 yards.

“You take a 20-point lead there midway through the third quarter, obviously we haven’t been in that position before, so maybe we didn’t handle it very well,” coach Will Muschamp said. “I was a little frustrated with our performance defensively.”

He wasn’t the only one, especially when Ford zipped an 18-yard pass to Breneman between two Gamecocks for a touchdown to make it 34-28 with 4:32 to go.

USC wasn’t supposed to be good defensively this season. That’s the result of Jon Hoke “coordinating” a unit unable to cover the middle of the field last year and without the services of linebacker Skai Moore.

That’s what made it pleasantly surprising when the defense was hitting hard, wrapping up and covering men downfield for most of the first six games. That was all Muschamp and Travaris Robinson, known for their defensive genius, and perhaps a lot of wakeup calls to players who had previously not produced.

So what happened Saturday? Linebacker T.J. Holloman blamed communication, a familiar target.

“We just didn’t do our assignments. We busted coverages,” he said. “When you don’t communicate, big plays happen.”

Ford hit his tailbacks and slot receivers on quick outs all day. The Gamecocks hung back instead of plunging in. If UMass hadn’t turned the ball over four times, it’s a way different result.

Tennessee, beat up and injured, comes in next week. The Volunteers are susceptible to a badly timed deep ball and a turnover.

Don’t adjust to what they’re doing, though, and it can get real ugly.

USC has played ugly enough times this season and time is running out for pretty results.

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