South Carolina’s secondary members have had problems communicating on the field all season. This week, coach Will Muschamp decided they shouldn’t be communicating off the field at all.
The Gamecocks did not make any defensive backs available during their weekly news conference. Maybe Muschamp figured they needed all the time they could get to prepare for Saturday’s game against Ole Miss, which leads the SEC in passing offense at 349.5 yards per game.
South Carolina (4-3 overall, 3-3 SEC) takes on the Rebels (5-3, 1-3) at noon Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. It could be a nightmare matchup for the Gamecocks, who are seventh in the SEC in passing defense, allowing 200.3 yards per game through the air.
In its last four games, South Carolina has started four different combinations of players in the secondary, and Muschamp indicated this week that the tinkering with the lineup isn’t finished.
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“We’re not comfortable at all (with the lineup at the position),” he said. “We are trying to find the best combination of guys to be productive for us. That’s kind of where we are right now. There have been too many inconsistencies with where we are.”
Injuries to J.T. Ibe (knee) and Nick Harvey (concussion) have exacerbated the Gamecocks’ issues, but even with both of those graduate transfers were healthy the secondary struggled. And now it must face a Rebels team that has one of the best wide receivers in the nation in A.J. Brown and six pass catchers averaging more than 13 yards per catch.
South Carolina’s defensive backs “have to rise to the opportunity in front of them,” Muschamp said. The Rebels “have some really good players. From the standpoint of coverage and leveraging the ball and tackling in the second level and third level, we have to continue to improve.”
Last week against Tennessee, Muschamp continued to increase the playing time of freshman safety R.J. Roderick and freshman cornerback Israel Mukuamu. Adding that pair to cornerback Jaycee Horn, who has started all season, gives the Gamecocks three true freshmen in the defensive backfield at times.
“Anytime young players, when they have the opportunity to play under the lights in front of 80,000 people, you are always going to make improvements,” Muschamp said. “This is a developmental game. Their experience in every game and the game continues to slow down for them. There is no doubt about it, the more snaps you get, the more effective you are going to be. Javon Charleston, all those guys who maybe haven’t played a lot of college football, the more snaps you get, the game continues to slow down for them so it certainly helps.”
The Gamecocks will find out how much it has helped Saturday against Ole Miss.