Lorenzo Ward insists there were no magic wands waved or major adjustments made at halftime Saturday night in the Gamecocks locker room at Commonwealth Stadium.
The explanation for South Carolinas defensive success in the second half against Kentucky was simple.
We played better, said Ward, in his first full year as the teams defensive coordinator.
The No. 6 Gamecocks (5-0) played a lot better, shutting out the Wildcats 31-0 and holding them to 70 yards in the second half en route to a 38-17 victory.
Wards unit fueled the second-half turnaround with four sacks and two interceptions. The end result was 243 total yards for Kentucky, a season best for the USC defense.
He knows what hes doing, Steve Spurrier said. We tightened everything up in the second half defensively. We completely shut them down in the second half.
The Gamecocks did make one change, Ward said, adjusting to how Kentucky was using its tight ends to affect USCs defensive ends.
Beyond that, the defense set out to tackle better and respond to the adversity of trailing at halftime for the first time all season. Ward said that was made easier after motivational halftime speeches from senior leaders D.J. Swearinger, DeVonte Holloman, Akeem Auguste and Damario Jeffery.
The leadership we had in the locker room at halftime was awesome, Ward said. Guys didnt hang their heads. They understood. We just have to go back and do the things that got us where we are, and thats play technique- and fundamentally sound.
Saturdays effort kept the defense among the nations best in several statistical categories. The Gamecocks are sixth nationally in scoring defense (11.20 points per game) and seventh in rushing defense (77.6 yards per game).
USC also added seven more sacks to the stat sheet, with seven players getting involved. That included Devin Taylor recording 1.5 sacks, his first of the season. The team has 22 sacks through five games, and the 4.4 sacks per game are second in the nation (behind Tulsa at 5.2). Jadeveon Clowney has a team-high 5.5 sacks.
Taylor said the team wasnt looking ahead to this weeks showdown with No. 5 Georgia, which averages 48.2 points and 536 yards per game.
We didnt come out fully prepared I guess for Kentucky and they kind of shocked us, Taylor said. We didnt change up anything. We were able to bounce back.
The second-half turnovers gave the team momentum and motivation to keep playing harder and doing better, Taylor said.
Kentuckys first-half surge could have a positive effect for the team moving forward, senior cornerback Akeem Auguste said.
Its exactly what we needed, he said. We probably came out nonchalantly like, Were going to beat the brakes off them. They came out there and put it down our throat in the first half. We buckled down in the second half, didnt get down and stayed focused. We were ready to play.
For Ward, it was a reminder that anything can happen, especially in SEC play.
Its not always going to go the way we think its going to go, he said. Weve got to be able to win some close ball games.