In three seasons at South Carolina, Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson haven’t fielded a defense that finished ranked in the top six in the SEC.
Muschamp was hired as the Gamecocks head coach, and in turn hired Robinson as his defensive coordinator, in 2015 in part because the team’s defense had ceased to exist as a deterrent, and both coaches have a track record of putting very good defenses on the field. They haven’t done that yet at South Carolina, but one of the behind-the-scenes stories from spring practice this year is that they think they might be able to this year.
Neither Muschamp nor Robinson has said as much publicly but they’ve said enough to show they’ve quietly got high hopes for this group, and South Carolina’s offensive players can see that.
“Most definitely,” wide receiver Bryan Edwards said. “The defense just looks really good honestly. They play with confidence. They create turnovers. They are running to the ball. They play with excitement, they play with urgency. We have a really good defense in my opinion.”
The Gamecocks were 12th in the SEC in total defense last year, allowing 424.4 yards per game, and 11th in scoring defense, allowing 27.2 points per game. Even considering the daunting 2019 schedule, everyone involved with South Carolina’s defense seems to be believe it will be significantly better this fall.
“You can definitely see it, and I think it starts with guys on the (secondary) and kind of trickles its way through, down to the d-line,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “I think everyone on defense has that confidence about them that they want to go win every play. That’s going to make our whole team better. It definitely makes us a lot better on offense.”
The defense often got the better of the offense throughout spring, several offensive players said, and they weren’t shy about letting their teammates know about it.
“When one unit is struggling and the other is flourishing, it encourages you to pick it up,” Edwards said. “You see one unit having fun, it makes you want to get back in your playbook and tighten up the things you need to do to make our offense look better. When you see the defense getting riled up and making plays, it frustrates you so you want to get out there and make plays. It kind of puts that little oomph in your step to say, let’s get it done and get this right.”
Bentley credited the attitudes of starting cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Isreal Mukuamu for the defensive resurgence.
“Jaycee and Israel want me to throw it at them on every play,” Bentley said.
The Gamecocks also except to have a healthy D.J. Wonnum, Javon Kinlaw, T.J. Brunson and Jamyest Williams in 2019, which should help a defense that struggled with depth a year ago.
“You can call it swagger, you can call it what you want,” defensive ends coach Mike Peterson said. “When you get some guys who are playing with a lot of confidence, you get positive things going and your whole organization starts to change, and I think that’s where we are at. Guys are playing with confidence. We have some guys who played ball last year and they know what to do.”