The Daily Gamecock

Defense plays best stretch of season

Tigers' two late touchdowns mar great effort by South Carolina's defensive unit

Blaming the defense for letting a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter slip away is tough to do when you consider that — for the majority of the game — it played its best football of the season. 

It was a complete turnaround from what the Gamecock defensive unit had done throughout their first four games.

From the end of the first quarter until midway through the fourth quarter, South Carolina forced Missouri to punt 10 straight times. Coming into the game, opponents had only punted eight times in total against the Gamecocks. 

I was pleased with how the guys played throughout the entire game until the last couple of drives,” Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “I thought we played hard, and I thought we affected him [Missouri sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk].” 

Ward noted the Gamecocks held the Tigers to just 152 yards of total offense before the start of the fourth quarter. And even though it gave up two touchdown drives late, holding Missouri’s spread offense to 280 total yards is a significant improvement from what other spread offenses in Texas A&M and East Carolina did to South Carolina’s defense.

The Gamecocks were put in a difficult situation during the Tigers’ opening touchdown drive after head coach Steve Spurrier went for it on fourth-and-one and missed it, leading Missouri to take over on South Carolina’s 42-yard line. Redshirt sophomore safety Chaz Elder  had an interception overturned because redshirt senior spur Sharrod Golightly  lined up offside, and the Tigers pounded it in for the score shortly after. 

South Carolina buckled down after that, making life for Mauk miserable. He only completed six of 19 passes for 57 yards in the first half. He overthrew receivers constantly and seemed to be running for his life more than a few times. Despite his late-game success, Mauk’s stats were subpar, and he finished the night with 132 yards on 12-of-34 passing. 

The pass rush for South Carolina had its best performance of the season, with redshirt senior J.T. Surratt and redshirt sophomore Gerald Dixon    each getting credit for a sack. On top of that, the defense hurried Mauk eight times, which coerced him into errant throws. 

“The coaches preached to us all week how he likes to get out the pocket, and run and throw the ball,” Surratt said. “So, we just prepared well for it.”

The Gamecock secondary also looked much better for a large portion of the game, as defensive backs were sticking close to the Missouri receivers. A couple of questionable pass interference calls by the officials on junior T.J. Gurley and true freshman Al Harris Jr. helped spark life in Tigers. 

Spurrier’s point of emphasis at the beginning of the season for his defense to get off the field on third down, which it did tremendously on Saturday, allowing Missouri to convert on just two of 16 attempts.  Coming into the game, the Gamecocks had allowed over a 50 percent conversion rate against their opponents. The Head Ball Coach after the game said the South Carolina defense “played their hearts out.”

So, it’s hard to put the onus on Ward’s bunch for the loss because of how much it improved in all phases. A better decision from Spurrier to go for two instead of one after the Gamecocks’ last touchdown and if senior tight end Rory Anderson hauled in an easy pass in the end zone instead of dropping it, the outcome might be different. 

But, you can’t dwell on the “what-ifs” in football, and nobody on the Gamecock defense would make excuses for the defeat. The last couple of Missouri possessions will be hard to swallow for a while.

“I put the game on us as a defense because we should have never let them score in the first place,” Dixon said. “We improved, but we still have more work to do.”


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