Josh Kendall

Gamecocks defense carrying ‘bare minimum’ game plan ... and still struggling

Often in football, the solution for a unit that is struggling is cutting back on the volume of things that unit is asked to do, focusing on a few basic fundamentals that can be mastered time and again.

South Carolina’s defense is struggling. The Gamecocks are sixth in the SEC in total defense (330.5 yards per game) but are coming off a discouraging effort against Kentucky. South Carolina is 10th in the SEC in turnovers gained, and coach Will Muschamp has regularly lamented this season that his players have had problems communicating and carrying out their assignments correctly and consistently.

It would seem it’s time for the Gamecocks to scale back on the defensive playbook. The problem is, their coach doesn’t believe they can.

“We’re at a bare minimum right now as to where we are installation wise as far as giving the offense some issues on game day and what we’re carrying into a game,” Muschamp said this week.

The Gamecocks (2-2 overall, 1-2 SEC) play Missouri (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday at noon in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers bring quarterback Drew Lock and the SEC’s second-rated offense (540 yards per game).

The Gamecocks were fifth in the SEC in scoring defense a year ago (20.7 ppg). They are 10th after four games this year (23.5 ppg). Last year’s defense carried a larger defensive playbook into games, Muschamp indicated, but he declined to quantify how much bigger.

“I’m not good at math so I don’t know,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not about what team did what last year, it’s about what we can do with this football team this year. We’re carrying enough into a game to be successful, I do know that, and to play better.”

South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson, who is 21st in the SEC in tackles per game (5.75), said the key to his team’s defensive improvement is as simple as “getting our cleats in the dirt and getting ready to play.”

The Gamecocks don’t need to cut down on their defensive playbook, Brunson said.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the issue,” he said. “It’s back to the basics, running, tackling, getting the calls, communicating. Those things we didn’t do so well until the second half last week. That’ll be the biggest focus going into this week and the rest of the season, just doing the basics better.”