South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has been clear on big plays. His defense wants to stop them first, then it wants to shut folks down in the red zone.
In Year 1, the Gamecocks have been solid on both fronts.
When they match up with South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl on Thursday, that’ll be tested.
The Bulls boast one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They’ve got speed all over the place, and quarterback Quinton Flowers and tailback Marlon Mack thrive on big plays.
“We want to make sure they don’t have any explosive plays, because that’s something that’s killed us this whole year,” South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “In the games that we’ve won, we haven’t allowed explosive plays. In the games that we’ve lost, we have allowed explosive plays.”
On runs where Flowers gets at least five yards, he averages 13.3 per carry (he gets 5 on 58.5 percent of his carries). On runs where Mack gets 5, he averages 14.7. The pair averages 213.5 rushing yards per game and has 30 combined touchdowns on the ground.
The Bulls are also the second-best scoring team in the country when they get inside the opponents’ 40 (USC’s defense is 23rd in that respect).
The offense left by coach Willie Taggart (now at Oregon), represents a marriage of two schools of thought. Taggart came up with Jim Harbaugh, and ran similar power-running, tight end-heavy schemes at Western Kentucky and early in his South Florida tenure.
But with the bevy of speed available in-state, he eventually turned to a hurry-up spread attack. The Bulls go four-wide or leave the quarterback alone in the backfield with regularity. Run-pass option plays are plentiful, with Mack and wide receiver Rodney Adams taking key roles in the passing game.
USC’s players expect even more complexity in what’s likely the last game for many of USF’s coaches.
“They do a lot of different stuff that we’ve never seen before,” senior safety Chris Moody said. “It’s a bowl game. You’ve got to be prepared for all the trick plays, all the weird stuff you want to see during the season, that’ll come out during this one game.”
The Gamecocks ran into similar offenses in Texas A&M and Clemson this season.
Most of the players said the challenge mostly comes down to getting a handle on Flowers. Muschamp recruited him at Florida. Tackle Taylor Stallworth called him different than any passer they’ve seen this season.
The Bulls will do plenty to stress USC’s defense, and while the edge players are usually the ones an offense keys on, keeping Flowers in check will be a group effort up front.
“It’s a big responsibility, because it’s our job keeping him in the pocket,” defensive end Darius Englsih said. “Making sure he’s not getting around, scrambling, making things hard on our defensive backs.
“We have to prepare at containing the quarterback.”