Tiger quarterback leads conference in passing touchdowns
South Carolina has faced a prolific SEC passing attack once this season, and it did not end well.
Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecock defense will have to call on every shred of maturity it’s gained since allowing 680 yards to Texas A&M in week one, with SEC touchdown leader Maty Mauk and the Missouri Tigers set to invade Columbia.
“We’ve got to contain him. He’s a quarterback that can run all over the place,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “Hopefully we can contain him and keep him in the pocket.”
Mauk has thrown his way to the top of the conference with 14 touchdowns in Missouri’s first four games. And with South Carolina’s well-documented struggles defending the pass, there will be a concerted effort to put Mauk on the ground this week.
Easier said than done.
The Gamecocks’ depleted defensive line has managed to sack the opposing quarterback just four times on the year, dead last in the SEC. For perspective, compare that to Missouri’s 14 sacks this season, second-best in the conference.
“I think from week to week we get better,” redshirt senior linebacker Sharrod Golightly said. “The goal is to get to the quarterback of course. But I think over the past three weeks, every week we’ve took a step forward.”
Golightly will be one of the linebackers that should see an expanded role in pursuit of the quarterback this week. Spurrier has long come to terms with the fact that South Carolina’s personnel on defense isn’t what it used to be.
And the Gamecocks will introduce a pass-rusher by committee approach against the Tigers that includes the linebacking crew.
“Pass rush? What’s that?” Spurrier said jokingly. “We’ve struggled a little bit on pass rush, and we really don’t have quite the guys we used to have around here, with Jadeveon (Clowney) and even Chaz Sutton.”
South Carolina’s descent to the bottom of the SEC in the sack category has been more of a free fall than anything else.
In 2012, South Carolina had the most feared pass rush in the SEC, collecting a whopping 43 sacks to finish the year at No. 1 in the conference.
Last season, with the triad of Clowney, Sutton and Kelcy Quarles still intact, the Gamecocks finished the year seventh in the conference with 25 sacks.
All things equal, South Carolina is on track for 13 this season, averaging just one per game.
Missouri primarily runs a spread offense, akin to the attack Texas A&M and East Carolina brought to town.
The Gamecocks defensive woes against those two opponents have been discussed ad nauseam.
But Golightly is taking a glass-half-full approach, claiming that what hasn’t killed South Carolina has made it stronger.
“I feel like this year we’ve seen it all, for the most part,” he said. “I think having the home-field advantage and some games under our belt already, we should be ready for the task at hand.”
Despite Mauk’s gaudy touchdown numbers, his other offensive statistics are pedestrian within the confines of the SEC.
He has the fifth-most passing yards in the conference with 978. Compare that to 1,140 from South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson.
Mauk’s passer efficiency rating is even less flattering. The Tiger quarterback ranks eighth in the SEC at 157.9.
At this point in the season, South Carolina’s defense has at least a working idea of its identity. The Gamecocks will look to bend, not break, against Missouri as they try to contain three Tiger wideouts that rank in the top-10 in the SEC in receiving touchdowns.
And as South Carolina has done time and again this season, its approach to Missouri’s offensive threat will be an abstract one: whatever it takes to win.
“We are in the habit of something happening to help us win a bunch of games that we easily could’ve lost,” Spurrier said. “We’re trying to get our guys to play at a higher level. Now, whether or not they can, I don’t know.”