Josh Kendall

This could be the Gamecocks’ fix for plummeting pass rush

In 2008, Will Muschamp became Texas’ defensive coordinator and immediately made the Longhorns the best pass-rushing team in the nation.

Texas had 47 sacks that season, more than anybody in the country, and Muschamp was named the team’s head coach in waiting in November of that year. A lot has happened since then.

Muschamp would spend two more years at Texas but eventually give up on the “in waiting” and become Florida’s head coach. After four years with the Gators, he spent a year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, and then became South Carolina’s head coach prior to the 2016 season.

What hasn’t happened since then is a sack season that rivals that 2008 team. The Longhorns had 42 sacks the next year, but no Muschamp defense has had more than 30 sacks in a season since then. The drop has been precipitous since Muschamp came to South Carolina, where the Gamecocks have finished 11th in the SEC in sacks each of the past two seasons with 26 in 2017 and 22 in 2016.

In Muschamp’s third season, he believes he may have finally found a fix — if he can keep his defense healthy.

“I think one of our best personnel groupings will be regular with Bryson at Sam and D.J. at Buck,” Muschamp said.

What that means is, senior Bryson Allen-Williams playing the strong side linebacker position and junior D.J. Wonnum playing the defensive end position that lines up opposite the strong side linebacker in the formation. That will allow South Carolina to have its two best pass rushers on the field at the same time, which it couldn’t for much of last season because Allen-Williams missed 10 games because of a shoulder injury.

Allen-Williams “has got great pass-rush ability,” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said. “You stand him up and you stand Dennis Wonnum up and you don’t know where to turn the protection. It gives us some different things like that, and (Allen-Williams) can really, really rush, man. It’s tough for those tackles to have to kick slide and block him.”

Wonnum led the Gamecocks in sacks last year with six. This season, he’s hoping for “one a game, two a game,” he said.

Allen-Williams has 4.5 career sacks, including two in three games last year.

“I’m not going to give out any numbers, but I know that our team, the way that it’s set up for us, we have the potential to do a lot of great things,” Allen-Williams said. “I’m just ready for the season to go and attack training camp and make sure I go out there and handle my business.”

If Wonnum and Allen-Williams can generate enough pass rush in South Carolina’s base 4-3 defensive set, it will make life a lot easier for Muschamp and Robinson.

“That’s the most important thing,” Robinson said. “The one thing you don’t want to do is have to pressure every single time to get pressure on the quarterback. That becomes difficult on the corners. That becomes difficult on the safeties. For us, we have to be able to get there with four guys, and we dang sure have the talent to do that now.”

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