South Carolina's defense has exceeded expectations and made massive improvements in the span of a year.
Allowing 36 points per game last season, the culture has changed dramatically thanks in part to first-year defensive coordinator Clayton White and his 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
While the offense continues to be a work in progress, the improvements made defensively have paid dividends thus far in 2021, as the Gamecocks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) lead the SEC in forcing turnovers.
"You really have to have a plan, and you also got to continue to coach them on the little things," White said in Wednesday's press conference. "If you make a play, this is not the time to turn around and do a five-second celebration. It's time to get up, eyes to the sideline and play with a lot of sense of urgency."
This week's pivotal matchup against Tennessee (3-2, 1-1 SEC) will provide an opportunity to see where the defense stands at in the midway point of the season.
Under first-year head coach Josh Heupel, the Volunteers offense has shown its ability to create sustainable drives and averaged 78 plays per game. For the Gamecocks to win, keeping their opponent's offense off the field will be key.
"Obviously trying to replicate [Tennessee's offense] at practice is going to be hard to do," White said. "But, we at least try to make sure they understand the tempo is going to be fast, and we threw as many plays as fast as we can."
Redshirt sophomore defensive back Jahmar Brown said the defense is getting into a "good groove of it" with practices being oriented around facing tempo play.
"The challenge is being detailed in your assignment. Be detailed in what you have to do from the one play, get right back up, sprint back to get in line and look to the sideline for the next call," he said in Tuesday's press conference.
Since making the change from junior Joe Milton to senior Hendon Hooker at the quarterback position, Tennessee's offensive capabilities have significantly improved.
Hooker, a dual-threat quarterback, has been nothing short of sensational in his first year with the Volunteers, throwing for 838 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has run for 216 yards and scored two touchdowns.
White said Hooker is a "really good athlete.”
"We've got guys on our football team that can run around and throw the football very similar to him," White said. "So, I think our scout team guys have done a really good job of giving us the best possible look."
Another area of concern that could hurt South Carolina lies in Tennessee's run game. In last week's 62-24 win against Missouri, the Volunteers ran for a season-high 458 yards and five touchdowns.
In addition to Hooker, the Volunteers are led by junior running back Tiyon Evans, who has compiled 367 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season.
In recent weeks, the Gamecocks have struggled in stopping the run. However, if the defense can contain Hooker and Evans among others, it will have a great chance of slowing Tennessee's offense down.
"They do a lot on offense and it's going to be a tough challenge, but it's a challenge that we're up for," Brown said.