Things are very grim when you look at all phases of the South Carolina football team, and the defense is no exception.
The Gamecocks played so well for the majority of the game against Missouri but folded late, which meant the defensive focus last week in practice was to close out games.
But, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s unit absolutely laid an egg in South Carolina’s 45-38 defeat at the hands of Kentucky.
Poor play-calling and Dylan Thompson’s deflected interception proved to be the difference in the game, but the defense didn't help the team’s cause, as it gave up a 38-24 fourth quarter lead pretty easily.
Kentucky sophomore running back Jojo Kemp was the premier reason for that. He lined up at quarterback in the “Wildcat” formation almost every play in the fourth quarter and torched the Gamecocks to score the two touchdowns that tied the game.
Kemp had only three rushes for 15 yards and a score after three quarters , but ended up finishing the night with 17 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops knew the “Wildcat” formation was working every time, and he’s not a man that fixes what isn’t broken. Sticking with it propelled the Wildcats toward victory, as they scored all five touchdowns from that setup and left Ward just as puzzled as South Carolina fans.
“I thought we had a good plan against it,” Ward said of Kentucky’s “Wildcat” offense. “I thought [Kemp] was very patient and so we changed at halftime and tried to bring some edge pressure to get him. We missed some tackles, and it’ll be interesting to go see [the tape].”
Ward mentioned the different ways his group tried to stop Kemp, including filling gaps and then switching to more of a zone pressure scheme. When that didn’t work, the Gamecocks switched to a goal-line defense so that all the gaps would be completely filled.
And guess what? That still didn’t work.
Redshirt senior spur Sharrod Golightly added his input for what went wrong in his team stopping Kentucky’s trickery.
“I think it was rough for guys to get lined up,” he said. “They went hurry-up on us and just couldn’t get lined up. It’s hard for D-linemen if they don’t get lined up, they just got pushed to the side instead of getting penetration and stopping them in the backfield.”
When the running game didn’t work, which was rare, sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles helped pace Kentucky. He went 20-of-29 for 208 yards and threw a touchdown pass out of the “Wildcat” formation after getting the ball from a double reverse handoff.
Towles seemed pretty comfortable for most of the game, besides getting stripped and sacked by Gamecock sophomore Larenz Bryant in the second quarter, which led to a South Carolina field goal. That was the only time the Gamecocks got near Towles. After Bryant’s play, South Carolina couldn’t even register a quarterback hurry.
The pass rush that seemed prevalent against Missouri was virtually a no-show against Kentucky, and the play of the defensive line as a whole was a major factor in the Gamecocks giving up 447 yards of total offense.
It’s the midway point of the season and South Carolina is sitting at only .500, so everyone’s job is at stake. Ward said he believes his defense can play better and it hasn't scratched the surface of its ceiling yet. That last part will be a tough sell to fans, who shouldn't be surprised to see a lot of changes in the unit for the coming games.
“I think we have to evaluate the entire team from what we’re doing to who we’re playing and again, it’s all of us,” Ward said. “We all have to evaluate ourselves.”