South Carolina isn’t panicking about its defense just yet.
Even though it was supposed to be one of the strengths of this year’s team and gave up 52 points and 680 yards of total offense in a season opening loss to Texas A&M, coach Steve Spurrier is confident things can be corrected.
“We’re still and will always be embarrassed by our performance the last game," Spurrier said. “We realize it’s history and we realize the only thing we can do is try to learn from it and try to play a whole bunch better and coach a whole bunch better the next time out.
“We’re hoping and believing that we can perform better than the last game and give our fans the team that they’ve been watching the last several years.”
One of the ways Spurrier has attempted to bring out more inspiration from his defense is by increasing the tempo and physicality in practice. While Spurrier was a little coy about what the team was exactly doing, he did mention the first-team offense and first-team defense were playing against each other in full-line sets. He also noted that players still aren’t being tackled to the ground so no one gets hurt.
"All we can do is try to learn from it,” Spurrier said. “We actually had some good plays on defense in the game, but when the other team converts 12 third downs conversions and 2-for-2 on fourth, you're out there a long time so obviously third downs are extremely important, as we know, and that was a huge problem. Again, we think we have the players to fix it, so we're going to find out here Saturday night."
This isn’t the first time the South Carolina has faced defensive adversity early in the year. Last season, defensive coaches were caught shoving each other on the sidelines following a loss to Georgia. And Spurrier threatened to take over the defense two weeks later after UCF quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 358 yards during the Gamecocks’ 28-25 win.
In the end, South Carolina finished the season 11-2 and its defense ranked 12th nationally in points allowed.
Defensive tackle J.T. Surratt, a fifth-year senior and the only returning member of the defensive line, said Tuesday that he left Saturday’s 52-28 loss inspired to make things better.
“Right after the game, my first thought process was like, we can’t wait to get back so we can figure this out,” Surratt said. “Our whole thing is we’re ready to get back out there to prove that was a fluke. It was a little minor setback, but I believe that we still got what it takes to do some good things this year.”
South Carolina faces East Carolina this week, a team that runs a similarly fast-paced offense as Texas A&M. The Pirates defeated FCS foe North Carolina Central 52-7 in their season opener and racked up 582 yards and 32 first downs. The Pirates scored touchdowns on 5-of-6 red zone appearances.
The Gamecocks are going to have their hands full with quarterback Shane Carden, who threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters, and receiver Justin Hardy, who had eight catches for 87 yards and two scores.
But East Carolina is not Texas A&M. It doesn’t have the recruiting pedigree and it doesn’t have the strong offensive line. The one thing South Carolina doesn’t want to do is try to be too aggressive against the East Carolina offense because Carden can get the ball out quickly, similar to A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, and it could burn the Gamecocks.
East Carolina is no stranger to knocking off power conference opponents. The Pirates gave Virginia Tech all it could handle last year and defeated North Carolina and North Carolina State. So this is not a team to take lightly or a team that’s going to roll over to a power conference opponent. While it might not be the same caliber as Texas A&M, East Carolina will be a good test to see whether it’s time to hit the panic button on the South Carolina defense.
“This week is really going to be a test to show what kind of people we’ve got on the team and a test to show how strong-minded we are,” Surratt said. “We have to get back out there and get back on the bike. We fell off, but we’ve got to get up and keep going. So, this week’s going to really test that.”
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