The Daily Gamecock

Jon Hoke brings fire, aggression to Gamecock defense


It’s no secret that South Carolina’s typically formidable defense struggled mightily a season ago.

A year after giving up just 20.3 points per game — good for 12th in the nation — the Gamecocks finished 92nd in the country, surrendering 30.4 points a game.

On National Signing Day, head coach Steve Spurrier announced the hiring of co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, a move intended to tackle South Carolina's defense woes.

The older brother of former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, Hoke was Spurrier’s defensive coordinator at Florida from 1999-2001. When Spurrier was hired by the Gamecocks in 2004, he asked Hoke to rejoin him as defensive coordinator. However, Hoke declined and instead moved to Chicago to become the secondary coach for the Bears.

Hoke’s system is more physical than Lorenzo Ward’s, last year’s sole defensive coordinator and now Hoke's co-defensive coordinator. Despite having the same title, the two coaches have very different roles.

Always a great players coach, Ward has been handling much of the technique work. In an attempt to improve the defense, Ward moved away from the sidelines and up to the press box in order to get a better view of the defense as a whole.

Hoke, on the other hand, has a mind for the X’s and O’s of the game. A standout cornerback at Ball State, Hoke studied schematics under defensive guru Dom Capers while coaching for the Houston Texans.

Hoke will handle play-calling duties this season, bringing an aggressive style to the field that Ward conservatively shied away from utilizing. A fan of a wide variety of zone blitzes, Hoke will apply pressure to opposing offense at a much higher rate than Ward did.

An underwhelming defensive back should benefit from having two secondary coaches in Ward and Hoke.

Already, Gamecock fans have seen the effects of Hoke’s new scheme. Foregoing Ward’s 4-2-5 formation in favor of a more traditional 4-3 set, Hoke has moved several players to new positions to fit his system.

Hoke repositioned junior Spur linebacker Jordan Diggs at strong safety this summer where he will start against North Carolina. Former safety Chaz Elder will start as cornerback against the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound junior is bigger and taller than the other corners, and his physicality is part of what makes him a better fit in Hoke’s system.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of Hoke’s system hinges on the amount of pressure the defense can put on the quarterback. South Carolina will blitz more often this season to improve on a league-worst 14 sacks last year.

If the Gamecock defense can pressure opposing quarterbacks, they will improve on the 432.7 yards allowed per game last season. While much of that depends on the ability of the front seven, the more aggressive scheme brought to Columbia by Hoke should help the Gamecocks return to their usual defensive dominance.