South Carolina has gotten off to a slow start defensively in each of its first four games before playing well in the second half in every contest except Georgia.
As a team, USC has allowed two points in the second half of its three matchups not played in Athens, and those were scored on a failed two-point conversion.
The focus this week is on playing well for four quarters when the Gamecocks travel to Missouri for Saturday’s showdown.
“We’ve been in position, we just haven’t made a lot of plays,” co-defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of the first-half struggles. “Hopefully, we can start out playing well this Saturday and play four quarters.”
USC players offered several explanations for why the defensive unit has gotten off to a slow start this season.
Spur T.J. Gurley said he believes the issues are mental.
“Not getting the calls in in time and players not doing what they’re supposed to do. But we’re going to get it together,” he said. “We’ve just got to play a full game. We haven’t been running a lot of calls in the second half. We’ve been keeping it simple. We’ve been playing fast. Keeping it simple lets players play faster.”
T.J. Holloman, who made the switch to Mike linebacker last week, is in charge of getting the play calls passed along to his teammates. He said he became more comfortable with his role as the game progressed against UCF.
“You definitely get better at it when you get into the game. The first couple of times, you’re out there looking around trying to make sure everything’s right. But once you get into a couple of plays, you get more relaxed, and once you get more relaxed, it’s good,” he said. “We’ve just got to communicate more. It’s on me to tell everybody the plays and it’s on me to relay the plays to everyone else and look to the sideline.”
More of a rush
USC finally got the pass rush it has been looking for this past Saturday against UCF.
The Gamecocks recorded two sacks and added seven quarterback hurries after tallying three hurries in the first three games of the year.
“They did a great job. The guys have been working hard. It probably was our best game, technique-wise, all year. We’re getting better every week,” defensive line coach Deke Adams said. “The great part about it is they’re learning how to study film, too, so that was really good for us.”
Adams said it is too early to tell what true freshman Shameik Blackshear’s role will be after seeing the first action of his career on Saturday.
“He did fine. He’s got a ways to go as far as trying to get better and learn exactly the scheme we’re trying to do, but he’s getting better,” Adams said. “He’s an athletic kid. We wanted to see what he could do, and he did a decent job when he was out there.”
Secondary getting healthy
Defensive backs Chris Lammons and Chaz Elder returned to practice after being out last week with injuries.
Lammons has not played since the opener against North Carolina, as he injured his knee during preparation for the Kentucky game.
Elder started against Georgia but did not dress against the Knights because of a rib injury.
Mike linebackers excelling
Skai Moore played Mike linebacker the first three games, led the team in tackles and recorded three interceptions before giving way to Holloman last week.
Holloman picked up where Moore left off, picking off two passes against UCF.
Ward said USC’s scheme is designed for Mike linebackers in the build of Holloman and Moore.
“This system requires an athletic, long linebacker. That’s why Skai was good at it and that’s why T.J. Holloman has had a good game at it and, hopefully, will continue to,” he said. “This system is set up for a long, lanky linebacker.”
Players who were injured or wore yellow jerseys were: C Alan Knott (sprained left ankle), RB Brandon Wilds (ribs), WR Deebo Samuel (hamstring), TE Connor Redmond (back), QB Gage Pucci (knee) and C Cody Waldrop (ankle). QB Connor Mitch (shoulder) is out 2-4 weeks. WR Shaq Davidson (knee) and WR Jerad Washington (left leg) are out for the season.
Staff writer David Cloninger contributed to this report.