Almost every week of the season, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has been asked at some point why his Gamecocks defenders aren’t tackling better. Many of those weeks, he’s asking himself the same question.
“I think tackling is a lot of want to,” Muschamp said this week after what was the low point of his team’s tackling for the season, a 35-31 loss to Florida. “You’ve got to really want to throw your face in the fan and enjoy it, and we’ve got to continue to recruit to that.”
Until the Gamecocks do “recruit to that,” Muschamp will keep harping on the technical details of bringing a ball carrier to the ground against his will.
“A lot of it is focused on tracking the near hip, wrapping up, running your feet, getting back square to drive them back instead of getting more yards,” junior linebacker T.J. Brunson said.
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The Gamecocks talk about tackling with clinical precision. They have executed it much less efficiently, and that’s a big reason South Carolina’s defense is ranked 12th in the SEC in both points (28.7 per game) and yards (418.3 per game) allowed.
“It’s always fundamental every single time we go through it,” Brunson said. “It’s always the same thing, always the fundamentals first, always back to the basics. Guys in our league you can’t butt them down, you have to wrap up, you have to bring your body and put your body on them and wrap up.”
South Carolina’s linebackers and safeties in particular haven’t done a good job of that this season, Muschamp said.
“We’re a little banged up at the safety position, and we haven’t been as productive at the linebacker position as we would have liked to be, just quite frankly,” he said. “I think those two positions have really hurt us as far as explosive plays. I think you go back to last year, (safeties) Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith were both very good tacklers. When the ball did hit the second level in a lot of those situations, the ball was on the ground. From a standpoint of a six- or eight-yard gain, as opposed to a 20-yard gain and an explosive run.”
The Gamecocks’ focus on forcing turnovers is not to blame for the poor tackling, Brunson said.
“It’s always, first man in wrap up, second man in come get the ball,” he said. “If you have a guy wrapped up and you have an opportunity to get the ball, you can go for it, but at the end of the day you have to wrap up and bring them down to the ground.”
However, Muschamp said that has been a factor in times.
“We do sometimes make mistakes, as far as sometimes trying to create a turnover instead of securing the tackle,” he said.
In truth, everything has been a factor at times, and the cumulative result of all those factors has made it impossible for the Gamecocks to play effective defense this season.
“I think things have kind of snowballed on us,” Muschamp said. “There a combination of things that have affected the tackling and obviously we continue to work on them.”
And have to talk about them.