Josh Kendall

Gamecocks defense playing best with backs against the wall

South Carolina’s football team got lots of practice on red zone defense during its preseason camp. It’s getting a lot more through two games this season.

The Gamecocks have allowed opponents into the red zone (inside their 20-yard line) nine times this season. No SEC team and only 22 teams in the country have seen more opponents’ possessions extend that far.

The good news for South Carolina is all that practice is paying off in the form of good red zone defense, which has been one of the biggest keys to the Gamecocks’ 2-0 start this season. South Carolina ranks fourth in the SEC and 16th in the nation in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 55.6 percent of their trips.

“In our training camp, we spend a lot of time down there,” coach Will Muschamp said. “In order to play good defense, you have to play good red zone defense; and one of our core values in our program is winning in the red zone, and that means you have to hold them to field goals.”

The Gamecocks are fifth in the SEC and 40th in the nation in touchdown percentage allowed in the red zone, allowing seven points 44.4 percent of the time. In all, South Carolina has surrendered five scores (four touchdowns and one field goal) on their opponents’ nine red zone trips.

“We work on keeping people out of the end zone,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “That’s a big thing for us. Once we get in the red zone, it’s just a mentality, bow your neck.”

The Gamecocks have been content to guard against the big play defensively while they’re in the middle of the field, confident they will respond when the opposing offense gets closer to the end zone.

“Let them get in the red zone, they are going to have a hard time running it, pass zones are going to condense, and we’re going to make some plays,” Muschamp said. “That’s what we were able to do (against Missouri).”

The Gamecocks defensive backs especially find the going easier in the red zone. Without having to worry about being beaten deep, South Carolina’s cornerbacks and safeties have found it easier to maintain tight coverage on wide receivers.

“There are only a certain amount of routes they can get, and once you watch film, that limits it also,” safety Chris Lammons said. “It is easier.”

The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in total defense this year, allowing 463.5 yards per game and ninth in scoring defense (20.5 ppg allowed).

“We try to keep them from getting yards, but it’s going to happen,” Brunson said. “We just have to adjust.”

So far, they have.