By the time Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff met with Oxford-area reporters Monday, he had done his homework on the Rebels’ next opponent.
“We’ve been looking at them very carefully for two weeks now,” McGriff said.
“Them” is the South Carolina offense, a Jake Bentley-led unit scheduled to take on Ole Miss at noon, Saturday, inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels (5-3, 1-3 SEC) fell to Auburn on Oct. 20 and have been off since. An open date on the schedule allowed McGriff to take a deeper dive into a foe Ole Miss hasn’t faced in nine years.
He learned a lot about USC offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon while taking in the Gamecocks’ 27-24 win over Tennessee last Saturday.
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“Bryan McClendon does a good job of mixing up the personnel,” McGriff said. “In one game, you’ll see a handful of 11 personnel. He’ll come back another game and he’ll give you a dose of 12 personnel. And then he’s going to have a core run of the day – it make be a gap scheme, it may be a zone scheme.
“But what’s real impressive is the variety, the multiple looks, the shifts and the formations they’re going to give you. They came off a bye week and, against Tennessee, you saw a lot more shifts, a lot more motions. And it started again with 12 personnel.”
The term “12 personnel” is given to an offense set that includes one running back and two tight ends. With the TEs on the line of scrimmage, the offensive line has blocking help.
The Gamecocks averaged 5.6 yards per carry against the Volunteers. Rico Dowdle rushed for a season-high 140 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve been impressed with the way they run the ball on offense,” said Ole Miss coach Matt Luke.
The Rebels enter Saturday last in the SEC in rush defense and next-to-last in pass defense. Bentley is coming off a Tennessee performance in which he recorded a QB rating of 156.7, his best since hitting 193.8 against Coastal Carolina in the season opener.
“The quarterback is the one that makes them go,” McGriff said. “You watch Bentley, he’s very competitive, really smart. You can tell he does a tremendous job of looking at coverages. ... And the kid plays with a lot of energy. His presence on the field sparks the other guys around him. “
“He does a good job of throwing the vertical ball, to give his guys a chance at the top of the route to come down with a 50-50 ball. So we’ll have our hands full. We got to do a good job of having good eye-disciple, good job of being at home and we got to do a good job of keeping the top on the coverage.”
The Rebels are also the most penalized team in the SEC.
“I think what’s really going to be important is we minimize, if not eliminate, the defensive pass interferences,” McGriff said, “because they’re going to throw the ball down the field.”
South Carolina, through eight games with McClendon, is averaging more points (28.6) and yards (400) than the previous two seasons under Kurt Roper.
The South Carolina defense, in Year 3 with coordinator Travaris Robinson, is 10th in the SEC in scoring (allowing over 25 points per game).
“What stands out about South Carolina is tremendous effort, maybe one of the best effort teams we’ve seen,” said Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo. “They’re not quite as big as some of the fronts that we’ve seen, but they move exceptionally well. It is a high-energy, high-effort, play-through-the-whistle defense, maybe one of the best that we’ve seen this year.
“We’re going to have to finish blocks, stay on blocks, complete plays, those types of things because they’re a great effort team defensively. They swarm the football. That’s rhetoric you hear from a lot of defensive coaches, well, South Carolina does that. They fly to the football. They run to the ball. They’re going to populate the football. And they do a good a job of anyone we’ve played. “