The Gamecocks defense didn’t miss a beat with All-SEC candidate D.J. Swearinger on the sideline in street clothes serving a one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit last week against UAB.
The unit disrupted and harassed the Tigers’ high-octane attack and nearly held Missouri without a touchdown for the first time since 2005 in a 31-10 dismantling of the Tigers on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Count Missouri coach Gary Pinkel as a believer in the South Carolina defense.
“I think you have to give their front six a lot of credit,” Pinkel said. “Obviously, we’re very young and overall we got into a lot of third and longs and that’s not good against that group to do that. They’re very, very talented and they played very, very well.”
In seven first-half series, the Tigers didn’t move past midfield until the sixth series. They were held to 131 yards in the opening 30 minutes and 76 came on the scoring drive that resulted in a 22-yard field goal.
That was all the offense the Tigers could muster until finding the end zone with 17 seconds remaining when the Gamecocks had several reserves on the field.
“The key is using good technique and using our eyes,” USC linebacker Shaq Wilson said. “We practiced hard and came out here and put on a show.”
The two scoring drives for Missouri covered 151 yards. On their other 10 possessions, all they could muster was 104 yards on 35 plays.
James Franklin, who missed last week with an injured shoulder, was 11-for-18 for 92 yards and was bottled up in the running game. He had 15 rushes for six yards and was sacked three times.
Things were going so well for the Gamecocks that Missouri never even tried to run its hurry-up approach until the Tigers trailed 14-0 in the middle of the second quarter.
“The bottom line is you have to get lined up,” USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “That’s what a hurry-up offense does to you. They want to keep you off balance and they make plays when you don’t get lined up. The one series they did move the ball in the first half, that’s what happened. When you get lined up, they have to do something different and that’s when the game slowed down for us.”
Swearinger was on the sideline, giving his replacement, T.J. Gurley, plenty of advice on each possession change.
The secondary was almost an afterthought with the way the front six dominated the line of scrimmage. That fact wasn’t lost on Pinkel.
“The greatest thing that secondary has going for them — like any good secondary has — is those six guys up front,” he said. “They make you a lot better fast.”
In the decisive first half, the Tigers gained 55 yards in the six drives other than their scoring drive. The Gamecocks met the goal of holding opponents to fewer than 110 yards rushing and 180 yards passing, so Ward came away pleased. He gave the front line as much praise as Pinkel did.
“The perimeter played well but it starts up front,” Ward said. “We are blessed to have the talent we have up front and can rush four guys. If you can play when teams throw the ball quick, there is no need to bring pressure because you aren’t going to get there. We affected him with four guys, and that made the us play with seven guys in the perimeter and that’s a positive. I felt we were in position to make plays even when they caught the ball. We knew they were going to get some dinks and dunks but we were trying to prevent the big play, and we did that.”