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Halfway Mark: Just How Good is the Gamecock Defense?

The defense is clearly much improved from last year, but just how good are they?

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina
This guy has come in and immediately made our defense respectable.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Sydney Hunte wrote earlier in the week about how bad our offense is (note: It’s really bad!). The offensive ineptitude, with the vast majority of offensive players being first or second year players, was largely expected. However, I’m not sure many people expected our offense to actually get worse from last season, but unfortunately it has.

So, while the South Carolina Gamecocks are 2-4 going into the bye week, the team could also easily be 1-5 or even 0-6. Why aren’t they? Look no farther than the immense defensive improvement this year. There are a couple reasons the defense is better, but the largest factors are better scheme and attitude.

Competent defensive schemes!

In March, Ian Boyd of SB Nation wrote a really good article on how Muschamp would fix the Gamecock defense schematically. So how is this paying off on a per-player basis? Well, I think there are several guys that immediately jump out at me that have shown immense improvement this season from a statistical standpoint. The first one of these is Darius English. Coming into the season, Darius’ career was largely viewed as a disappointment. Well, we can officially chalk that up to poor coaching from the Lorenzo Ward/Jon Hoke eras as Darius leads the team with 6 sacks underneath Muschamp’s guidance. Another person that really pops on the film (in my eyes) is the play of Chris Lammons. Lammons, who came in as a highly regarded DB recruit in 2014, has had a largely up and down career. However, in a scheme that allows him to simply man-up on his receiver and use his athletic ability on the edge, he already has 2 impressive interceptions, several pass break ups, and a sack for good measure.

Playing with an edge...

To Lorenzo Ward’s credit, he did lead some very good defenses in 2012 and 2013. While it is obvious to nearly everyone that those players were a by-product of Ellis Johnson’s recruiting, Ward does deserve some credit for their development and high level of play. So, other than scheme, what made those guys like DJ Swearinger, Devonte Holloman, Devin Taylor etc. so good? They played with a nasty attitude and relentless energy. By the time 2014 and 2015 rolled around however, the defense had lost its edge. This trait isn’t really a tangible stat or factor, so it’s hard to point out specifically where the defense has this mentality again. But I firmly believe that the Gamecock defense isn’t intimidated by any one and believes they can stop anybody they face.

The Gamecock defense is by no means perfect. They are still giving up way too many yards on the ground (326 yards on 50 carries against UGA comes to mind). And, a by product of that, they are 78th in total defense according to ESPN. However, this is a defensive squad that is made up of the same guys that were part of two of the worst defenses in South Carolina history in 2014 (the worst ever!) and 2015. Their marked improvement is nothing short of impressive, and will only continue to get better as Muschamp continues to bring in more top level defense talent.