Monday my co-manager Sydney previewed the offense for our 2017 package, now it’s time to dive into the defense.
During Steve Spurrier’s tenure with the South Carolina Gamecocks, defense became his calling card in a reverse twist from his identity at Florida. From 2005 to 2013 South Carolina routinely put out top-40 defenses, including a four-year run from 2009 to 2012 where the defense was ranked in top-15 in S&P.
The defense peaked in 2012 when it was ranked No. 6, then fell back to 22 in 2013. There’s no shame in being a top-25 defense, but it was following the departure of NFL talents like Jadeveon Clowney and Jimmy Legree the unit took a serious tumble.
In 2014 the defense fell to 77th in defensive S&P and then 95th in 2015. Prior to 2014 the worst defense Spurrier ever had was his first season in 2005 at 38th. Whoever took over the job following SOS’s departure would be tasked with having to rebuild a train wreck defense, so in hindsight perhaps Will Muschamp was the right fit all along.
Last season the South Carolina defense jumped back up to 50th in S&P part in thanks to the schemes implemented by Muschamp and defensie coordinator Travaris Robinson. Here’s how things broke down:
- South Carolina was excellent at preventing the deep pass. They were 6th in Passing ISOppp defense and 46th in total passing defense S&P. This came without a stellar pass rush either, which is normally a given when talking about top-50 pass defenses.
- The run defense was average on its best day. Opposing backs ran relatively efficiently (89th in rushing success rate) on the Gamecocks but didn’t always break out the long gains (46th in rushing ISOppp).
- The defense benefited from turnovers, especially with their backs against the wall. Look no further than the ECU game, where the Pirates turned the ball over three times inside the Gamecock ten.
- Even saying that, South Carolina wasn’t very good at creating havoc plays (passes defended, sacks, tackles for loss). They were 93rd in the country in overall havoc rate last season.
South Carolina’s defense had its holes last season, but was good enough to pull South Carolina through the first six games of the season when the offense struggled. With some healthy pieces back and a good crop of 2017 recruits, this unit is expected to improve to a top 40 or even 30 level.
Projected Depth Chart
Defensive end: Dante Sawyer and D.J. Wonnum/Keir Thomas and Daniel Fennell
A lot of noise has been made around Wonnum this fall and for good reason. Wonnum had a handful of splash plays last season and is expected to be the Gamecocks’ top pass rusher this season. Sawyer is a seasoned veteran on the line, while Thomas and Fennell look to provide decent depth.
Defensive tackle: Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones/Kobe Smith and Javon Kinlaw
The strength of the line lies in the interior with Stallworth and Jones who both tip the scales at 300-plus pounds. Smith looks to follow up a solid freshman season while Kinlaw is a wildcard from the JUCO ranks with his size and stature (6’6’’, 326 lbs).
Linebackers: Bryson Allen-Williams, T.J. Brunson and Skai Moore
This is by far the most solid group of the defense, headlined by two seniors with three years of experience. Brunson will be the question mark along side sure things in BAW and Moore, but don’t foget about JUCO transfer Eldridge Thompson as someone who could throw his name in the mix this season.
Cornerbacks: Jamarcus King and Rashad Fenton/Jamyest Williams and Chris Lammons
King and Fenton have solidified themselves as starters this fall, but both have their flaws as starters. Lammons versatility could see him start at spots this year, while Williams has been working in at nickel at fall camp and could get a shot to prove he was worth the hype during his recruitment.
Safeties: Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith/Steven Montac and Javon Charleston
Smith was a headache in deep coverage last season and needs to put together a breakout season. Lammons might start at safety or corner, leaving Montac and Charleston to potentially fill the roll of strong safety. Look out of JUCO transfer Keisean Nixon to throw his name in the mix too.
Biggest concern: Pass rushing
Darius English finally lived up to his billing last year by recording 13.5 TFL and nine sacks, but the leading returner only has two. South Carolina’s defense can’t take the next step unless Wonnum and Sawyer can provide pressure from the edges. Only then can Robinson and Muschamp open up the defense and start mixing their coverages so opposing quarterbacks don’t always see cover three, off-man looks.
Pass rush— Nick Fields (@nickaf25) August 28, 2017
Pass rush— SirSpur (@xXSirSpurXx) August 28, 2017
Defending mobile QBs— Chris Marrin (@chris_marrin) August 28, 2017
Key returnees and stats
Returning defensive statistics
|Skai Moore (2015)||LB||12||111||6.5||2||4||4||3||1|
|Bryson Allen Williams||LB||13||75||8.5||2||2||1||1||1|