Texas A&M’s high-powered offense gets a lot of attention, but the Aggies also have one of the best defensive fronts in the nation, led by All-SEC performer Myles Garrett.
In seven games A&M has recorded 66 tackles for loss and 21 sacks. The Aggies lead the SEC and rank fourth in the nation in tackles for loss per game and are tied for 15th in the country and second in the SEC in sacks per game.
Garrett, who set the SEC freshman record for sacks with 11.5 last year, has 8.5 with five regular season games remaining. Fellow defensive end Daeshon Hall has five sacks. For comparison, USC’s sack leaders are Dante Sawyer and Darius English with 2.5 each.
South Carolina coach Shawn Elliott said the Gamecocks will have to pay careful attention to Garrett, who also has seven quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles.
“I don’t know if you stop a guy like that. But you certainly can’t take seven-step drops and get us in third-down situations and let him rush the passer. It just doesn’t match up. I don’t care what kind of offensive tackles you’ve got,” Elliott said. “You’ve got to mix in protections. We’ve got to slide protect. We’ve got to move the pocket. We’ve got to have some cut protections in there. We can’t give them the same protection over and over and over again to let that guy get off the ball.”
USC quarterback Perry Orth said he has to keep his eyes down field and not worry about the potential pass rush.
“When you’re playing, you’ve just got to focus on down the field and trying to find your receivers, and you’ve got to trust your offensive line that they’re going to do their job,” Orth said. “And they’ve done a heck of a job so far this year.”
Orth will start Saturday’s game, but Elliott is not sure if he will play the entire game.
He said there could be an opportunity for Connor Mitch or Lorenzo Nunez to play, depending on how the game is going.
“I’m looking for us to have the opportunity to win the football game. If it needs for Perry Orth to stay in there and lead our football team to victory, then, of course, we’re going to do that,” Elliott said. “You’ve all seen Nunez and Connor Mitch in action. They both bring different things to our football team. Whether it be a Nunez package, who knows? It may be more speed option with him out there. I don’t know. That will be played out during the course of the game and how it’s kind of flowing.”
Orth said he feels healthy and ready to go after missing practice time last week.
“I feel great. I was just a little sore. I had been throwing pretty much every single day since the beginning of August, and it was nice to just kind of relax,” he said. “It was good to get some well-needed rest, but I’m back to full-go this week.”
Wilds ready to run
USC starting running back Brandon Wilds said he is healthy and eager to get the ball after a bye week.
Wilds played last Saturday against Vanderbilt, but missed the previous three games with a rib injury. He is hoping to get plenty of opportunities on Saturday against Texas A&M.
“I’m very healthy coming off the injury, of course, and off the bye week, so I’m very healthy,” he said. “I’m ready for 30-plus carries.”
A rare day of tackling
Because of a fear of injuries, the Gamecocks seldom practiced hitting in a game week during Steve Spurrier’s tenure, but South Carolina tackled during Tuesday’s practice, something safety Jordan Diggs enjoyed.
“Guys flew around and banged up a little bit. It was good. It was definitely different, but I think guys approached it well and we did really good,” he said. “I’m a defensive guy, so it didn’t bother me much.”
Players who were injured or wore yellow jerseys were: LB Sherrod Pittman (leg), SS Antoine Wilder (leg), WR Christian Owens (left foot), WR Deebo Samuel (hamstring), TE Connor Redmond (back), QB Gage Pucci (knee) and C Cody Waldrop (ankle). WR Shaq Davidson (knee) and WR Jerad Washington (left leg) are out for the season.
Staff writer David Cloninger contributed to this report.