South Carolina’s passing defense is one of the best in the Southeastern Conference, and Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp thinks he knows why.
“We are not playing the run real well. Why would you throw it?” Muschamp asked. “That’s the way I look at it.”
South Carolina (2-3, 1-3 SEC) is third in the SEC and 35th in the nation in passing defense, allowing 201.8 yards per game through the air, but 13th in the SEC and 99th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 202 yards per game on the ground.
That run defense could be a problem this week against Georgia (3-2, 1-2 SEC), which is seventh in the SEC with 193.6 yards per game on the ground and this week gets back star running back Nick Chubb, who played only one play against Tennessee with an ankle injury.
“A lot of teams have been spreading us out. I feel like this is the first team that’s about to make us play the run. We know it’s coming,” safety D.J. Smith said. “They are going to have that play-action pass every once in a while, so we just have to be ready to tackle, play our gaps and have our reads.”
The switch from an opponent that runs a spread offense, like Texas A&M, Kentucky and Mississippi State all do, to the traditional two-back, power offense favored by the Bulldogs is a welcome switch for South Carolina’s linebackers.
“You get to line up and put your cleats in the ground and go downhill, especially as a linebacker,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “Me and (linebacker Jon Walton) were just talking about it at practice. It’s easier for us because we get to have our shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and play downhill.”
Georgia has three tailbacks who are averaging more than 5 yards per carry this season – Chubb, Sony Michel and Brian Herrien.
“With the good backs we are playing against, you can’t just hop out of gap, because just one little small hole for a dynamic running back is a 60-, 70-yard touchdown,” Allen-Williams said. “We just have to be sound and fit in our gaps. I feel like the most progress we have made is physicality at the point of attack. We are getting a lot better at approaching blocks.”
Muschamp’s biggest complaints with the run defense have been the lapses that have allowed long runs. South Carolina has given up more runs of 10 or more yards than any SEC team other than Ole Miss. The Gamecocks and Rebels have each given up 37 such runs and are tied for 115th in the nation in that category.
“We have to stop the run, because if we can get them to start throwing the football, we can do a lot of different things as far as bringing pressure, disguising a little bit more,” Allen-Williams said. “The main emphasis this week is to stop the run.”