Skid to end 2016 motivates South Carolina defense for new season
For a senior on South Carolina’s defense, this is a first.
Coming into the spring of 2017, the Gamecocks didn’t have to pick up a new defensive scheme. For most successful programs, this should be a given. You run what you run. You drill it well. It gets ingrained.
But USC has endured three years of inconstant defense and that’s started near the top.
“I was kind of realizing that last year,” junior cornerback Rashad Fenton said. “With the first coaching staff, some teams who have the same coaching staff for over 10 years, players who are seniors, they’ve been through the program for four years.”
South Carolina has seen the polar opposite.
In 2014, the unit led by defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was one of the worst statistical groups in years. In response, then coach Steve Spurrier called an old friend in Jon Hoke to join Ward as co-defensive coordinator. While his Cover-2 schemes kept USC from getting roasted deep as often, opponents still moved up and down the field with relative ease.
That played a role in Spurrier’s departure, and current coach Will Muschamp came in with his own idea. Year 1 in that scheme was a marginal improvement, but it established a foundation and created continuity for players returning this spring.
It’s still a far cry from a player in a program for three or four years.
“They know the ups and downs, the whole defense, offense, special teams,” Fenton said. “They’ve been learning that for four years. So by their senior years, they’re masters at it. I was realizing that myself like coming into this year, like it’s the same defense, so we could only move faster.”
Muschamp’s scheme has proven to be one top talents can handle quickly. Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor became starters in their first seasons in college and were All-SEC players in short order. Current Atlanta Falcons starter Keanu Neal didn’t play a snap of defense for Muschamp and Travaris Robinson as a freshman, and started in Year 2.