Josh Kendall

There’s no magic fix for Gamecocks’ struggling run defense

South Carolina’s defensive coaching staff planned to have a long Sunday night in the office trying to fix its struggling run defense.

“Our run defense really has to be looked at,” head coach Will Muschamp said.

After a lot of looking, though, the Gamecocks didn’t come up with any magic fixes.

“It’s not one thing you can put your finger on and say, ‘Eureka, here we go,’” Muschamp said.

The defensive system that was presented to the Gamecocks (3-2 overall, 2- SEC) this week as they prepare to face No. 22 Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium is the same one they have been using all season, middle linebacker T.J. Brunson said.

“There’s no new scheme, just refining what’s already there and capitalizing on what we do and how we do it,” said Brunson, who leads South Carolina in tackles with 30. “It’s been the same, same thing, same ideas of stopping the run, everyone doing their job, fitting their gap. At the end of the day, that’s what stops the run. Everyone has made a big push toward doing their assignment and staying assignment sound.”

South Carolina is 13th in the SEC and 100th in the nation against the run, allowing 194 yards per game on the ground. It is 12th in the SEC and 84th in the nation in yards per carry allowed at 4.49. The Aggies are fifth in the conference in rushing with 220.8 yards per game.

Playing good run defense can be counterintuitive, South Carolina linebacker Danny Fennell said.

“It’s natural to think, ‘See the ball, go get it,’” he said. “You just have to be disciplined enough to do your job.”

“It’s just about making sure everybody is taking care of their assignments,” safety Jamyest Williams reiterated.

However, the South Carolina secondary has been one of the biggest issues in the Gamecocks run defense.

“We’ve given up tremendous amounts of yardage, by not tackling on the second level, and that’s been frustrating,” Muschamp said. “That’s been a little bit of the issue at the safety position, it’s been some at the corner position and it’s been some at the nickel position.”

This year’s run defense is by far the worst of any team coached by Muschamp in the last eight seasons. The only other season that comes close was his one year as Auburn defensive coordinator in 2015 when the Tigers gave up 182.5 yards per game on the ground.

Muschamp’s four Florida teams dominated against the run, finishing the top five in the SEC all four years, including the top three each of his last three seasons with the Gators, but none of his teams have finished in the top five in the conference since then.

“The first thing you have to look at is yourself as a coach,” Muschamp said. “We are not coaching it as good as we can coach it, and that’s on me. You are not going to overhaul a system right now. We have a good system. We have to coach it better. That’s on me, and no one else.”