Josh Kendall

USC defense a tale of two halves

South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore (10) tackles Kentucky running back Stanley Williams (18) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore (10) tackles Kentucky running back Stanley Williams (18) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium.

There are no fire-and-brimstone speeches in South Carolina’s defensive meetings during halftime of games this year. There’s no magical adjustment that first-year defensive co-coordinator Jon Hoke has been waiting 30 minutes of game action to spring on an unsuspecting opponent.

There’s no easy explanation, in fact, for why the Gamecocks have been so good on defense in the second half of their games this year after being so bad in the first half.

“I guess if I knew the answer to that, we would not struggle in the first half,” defensive co-coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.

South Carolina’s defense has given up 37 points in the first half of two games this year and zero combined in the second half. (Kentucky’s two points Saturday night came on a fumble return on special teams.) The yards allowed discrepancy has been almost as dramatic. First half: 550. Second half: 296. And the real story is in the yards per play – 8.73 in the first half vs. 4.29 in the second half.

“Just played base defense better and did our job better,” is Hoke’s explanation.

Immediately after the Kentucky game, coach Steve Spurrier suggested his defense disguised its coverages better in the second half against Kentucky, but he wasn’t as sure Tuesday that pre-snap trickery was a big factor.

“The defensive coaches really thought they just played much better,” Spurrier said. “The first half, we didn’t stop them much at all there, except for the first possession, and then after that we didn’t stop them I don’t think at all.”

South Carolina’s defensive coaches spend halftime teaching rather than yelling, Ward said.

“That’s not the right time to scream,” he said. “We want to coach them hard, but we want to make sure we make corrections and fix what we are doing wrong and the guys get it after halftime. Hopefully, we will start the game that way this week and they will get it from the start.”

Ward and linebackers coach Kirk Botkin agreed that their players relax more in the second half of games.

“I think sometimes we might get a little too hyped in the first half and calm down a little bit more in the second half,” Botkin said. “Everybody just does their job better. We make a couple of adjustments here and there. About 80 percent of the game is from the neck up, and you have to calm down and play.”

Overall, the Gamecocks are 11th in the SEC in total defense (419.5 yards allowed per game) and ninth in scoring defense (19.5 points per game). Saturday’s opponent, No. 7 Georgia, is seventh in the SEC in total offense (428.5 yards per game) and fourth in the league in rushing (266 yards per game).

“Their No. 1 goal is to run the football,” Ward said. “Georgia has always been that way. We are definitely going to get (Nick) Chubb right, Chubb left and then we’re going to get Sony (Michel) and (Keith) Marshall in there. They have three of them they can run at you.”

That will be a problem for South Carolina if it doesn’t play the run better than it did in the first 90 minutes of the season. Through the first six quarters of the season, the Gamecocks allowed 364 yards on 57 carries (6.4 yards per carry).

“Didn’t fit the run the way we needed to (against Kentucky), that was the biggest thing that was disappointing,” Hoke said. “We worked extremely hard at it.”

Hoke and Ward are hoping their group puts it all together against the Bulldogs.

“We just have to figure out a way to come out fast and continue it through the game,” Ward said.

Gamecocks at Bulldogs

Who: USC (1-1) at Georgia (2-0)

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga,


Line: Georgia by 17