In Saturday's 41-10 South Carolina victory over Furman, the defense statistically did a good job outside of giving up a single long TD run to Furman's Hank McCloud in the first quarter. While the fact that the Gamecocks generally had success against Furman outside that one play might be cause for cautious optimism, you can't discount that one play. What went wrong for Carolina on the play? Let's take a closer look.
Furman blocks Carolina successfully at the point of attack here, allowing McCloud to get to the second level. While Furman's regular success in blocking Carolina up front was concerning given that the Furman offensive line was giving up a lot of pounds to the Carolina defensive line, what I really want to focus on here is Carolina's safety play. The safeties are T.J. Gurley and Chris Moody, with Gurley lined up deep towards the left of the screen and Moody closer to the line of scrimmage towards the bottom of the screen. Gurley makes a critical error on the play. As McCloud breaks through the line, Furman blocks Marcquis Roberts, keeping Roberts from making the tackle. Gurley anticipates that McCloud will cut inside of Roberts, and Gurley aggressively runs up field to meet McCloud there. However, recognizing that once Gurley has committed inside that there's no one to make the tackle down the sideline, McCloud makes an easy decision to break outside. If Moody had been more cognizant of the position of the ref who picks him, Moody might have been able to make this tackle in the red zone, but it's hard to blame the play on him considering that he's lined up away from the direction McCloud runs. This one is on T.J. Gurley, who should have recognized that he was the last line of defense on his side of the field past Roberts and played more conservatively. In this situation, Gurley has to force McCloud back to the middle of the field, where Gurley's teammates can help him make the tackle.
The reason I highlighted this play is that it got me thinking again about whether it was wise to move Brison Williams to cornerback. Williams has performed well in that role, but as the season progresses, it's become clear that safety play is one of this defense's biggest liabilities, while Al Harris, Jr. and Chris Lammons give us two solid if inexperienced corners outside of Williams. It seems to me that we're better off on this play if Williams replaces Gurley or Moody and Harris moves into Williams' corner spot.
To compound matters, safety play has been all the more important for the Gamecocks this year because the defensive line isn't making as many plays as it has in the past. Carolina has had to rely on its safeties to help out in the run support more than usual. We're seeing more plays like this one where the safeties must make good, disciplined decisions in order to keep good runs from becoming home runs. To me, this again illustrates not only the shortcoming of our current rotation at the safety positions, but also what a difference it might make to have Williams in one of those two spots.