Josh Kendall

USC defense will accentuate positives heading into spring

South Carolina’s players are sure to hear “56-7” plenty in the coming year, but they won’t hear it from their defensive coordinator.

The Gamecocks will start spring practice Saturday with a nod to the swaths of ground they have to make up defensively, but without a drumbeat of condemnation for it.

“That’s not something we want to beat in their head,” second-year defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said. “They understand we are a 6-7 ball club. I’m sure they will hear it a lot from (the press), from their peers out in school. It isn’t something we are going to constantly beat in their head.”

South Carolina finished 2016 seventh in the SEC and 66th in the nation in total defense, allowing 412 yards per game, and eighth in the SEC and 51st in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 26.5 points per game. Worse yet, the Gamecocks allowed an average of 44.3 points in their last three games, including an infamous 56-7 loss to Clemson.

“Obviously, it motivates us,” Robinson said. “We are only as good as our last ball game and our last ball game we were on the field and lost at the end of the game. The game before that against our archrivals, we didn’t play very well. Like I tell them, I’m a 6-7 ball coach, they’re 6-7 players. We have to do a great job of turning that around. It starts Day 1 of spring ball.”

Robinson echoed head coach Will Muschamp’s theme of toughness. Two days ago, Muschamp called his team “a soft organization.” Friday, Robinson said, “We need to be a physical outfit.”

South Carolina was ninth in the SEC and 90th in the nation in rushing defense a year ago, allowing 203.2 yards per game.

“We don’t make excuses,” Robinson said. “The system that we implemented last season was our system and obviously we have to add some pieces to the puzzle. We all know that.”

The Gamecocks will re-acquire senior linebacker Skai Moore, who missed 2016 due to a disc injury in his neck, but must replace three of their top five tacklers (linebackers T.J. Holloman and Jonathan Walton and defensive end Darius English) and their leading pass rusher (English) from a year ago.

“We have a lot of seniors on defense,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “We have 12 opportunities not counting any postseason, to go out there and make it to postseason. We don’t have that much room for error. We have to perform right now. Every game we have to treat it like it’s our last game because you never know how many opportunities you will have.”

The experience of players like Allen-Williams in the system should help in year two, Robinson said.

“They can do more because they know more so we will do a little more than we did last season,” he said, “but our fundamental way of doing things, that’s never going to change.”