Josh Kendall

USC defense half good, half bad at halfway point of season

South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Chris Moody (6) brings down Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver C.J. Duncan
South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Chris Moody (6) brings down Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver C.J. Duncan gmelendez@thestate.com

At the halfway point of the 2016 season, South Carolina’s defense is at a similar midpoint in its defensive rebuild.

Halfway between where it was in the disastrous 2015 and 2016 seasons and where it would like to be at season’s end. The good half is represented by a scoring defense that is ranked sixth in the SEC and 27th in the nation, allowing 20.2 points per game.

The Gamecocks gave up 29 points per game in 2014 and 2015, ranking on average 13th in the SEC in that category, and for the most part the personnel on the field is the same. Only one player who started Sunday’s game against Georgia, defensive lineman Keir Thomas, was not available last season.

“If you turn on the tape, I feel like the effort stands out way more than it did last year,” senior safety Chris Moody said by way of explaining the team’s defensive performance. “The energy that (first-year head coach Will) Muschamp and his staff brought in, the way we practice, the way we work out, the whole deal when they came in.”

Muschamp was a highly regarded defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach, and his addition and the hiring of defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson has been a boon for the defense, cornerback Chris Lammons said.

“We are playing with more energy and aggressiveness and more want to. Everybody wants to do it. Basically, that’s it,” Lammons said. “Coach Muschamp is a dude that’s going to push you to the best that you’re going to play. He’s a coach that’s going to make sure you do whatever you are supposed to do. You don’t want to be here just to go through the motions. You want to win.”

The other half of the story for the defense thus far is not as happy. South Carolina’s run defense is porous, ranking last in the SEC and 108th in the nation by allowing 222.7 yards per game. When Georgia won despite attempting only 17 passes, Muschamp quipped, “That was probably 17 too many.”

The Gamecocks inability to stop anyone on the ground has rendered all its effort moot for most of the season. Robinson has not spoken to the media since the season began.

“We could be a whole lot better,” Lammons said. “It’s just a couple plays that we misfit, just about six plays a game that are killing our defense. If we get that out of our game, we’ll be real good.”

The three SEC teams remaining on South Carolina’s schedule are ranked No. 2 (Missouri), No. 7 (Tennessee) and No. 8 (Florida) in the SEC in total offense.

“We are doing a lot of the right things,” defensive end Marquavius Lewis said. “We just have to take care of business, be more detailed in what we do.”

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