Josh Kendall

Two numbers tell story for South Carolina defense

South Carolina’s 2016 defense looks a lot better than it did in 2014 and 2015, doesn’t it?

Turns out, it’s not that much better, at least on the top line of the statistics sheet. The Gamecocks gave up 425.6 yards per game last year and are giving up 389.7 this year. That’s improvement but only about 36 yards per game worth.

So why does it look so much better? And why has the scoring defense improved by a lot, 22 percent, from 27 points allowed per game to 21.1 points allowed per game?

Two reasons: Red zone defense and takeaways. The Gamecocks are fourth in the SEC in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score 70.3 percent of the time, and they are tied with Texas A&M for most takeaways in the SEC at 23 (a conference-best 13 interceptions and 10 fumbles).

“We have played outstanding red zone defense and we’ve gotten turnovers,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “We needed to be that kind of defense right now. That’s just who we are.”

The Gamecocks remain one of six FBS teams to have not allowed any opponent more than 30 points this year, joining No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 7 Washington, No. 18 Auburn and No. 19 LSU.