Gamecocks’ run defense will face toughest test

UGA's Todd Gurley leads SEC with 107.2 yards per game

jkendall@thestate.comOctober 4, 2012 

2012: USC wins 38-17 - The Gamecocks came back from a 17-7 halftime deficit to outscore Kentucky 31-0 in the second half. The defense had seven sacks and two interceptions on the night, including a sack by Jadeveon Clowney.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

  • HOLDING THE LINE The Gamecocks rank second in the SEC and seventh in the country in rushing defense, allowing 77.6 yards per game and two rushing touchdowns. Here are the national leaders:
    Team Carries Yards Yds/Gm
    1. Rutgers10225062.50
    2. BYU16131663.20
    3. Stanford11126065.00
    4. Alabama16132965.80
    5. FSU15536272.40
    6. UConn17437154.20
    7. USC 173 388 77.60
  • GAMECOCKS VS. BULLDOGS WHO: USC (5-0, 3-0 SEC) vs. Georgia (5-0, 3-0) WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m. TV: ESPN RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5 SATELLITE RADIO: Sirius 91/XM 91 LINE: USC by 2

Keith Marshall, 75 yards, touchdown.

Todd Gurley, 51 yards, touchdown.

Marshall, 72 yards, touchdown.

These are the words that have raced through Brad Lawing’s head all week. It’s a sampling of what No. 5 Georgia’s freshman running backs can do. All three of those plays came last week in a 51-44 win against Tennessee. There are plenty more.

“We went through their explosion plays (20 or more yards), and we have a whole highlight tape. We showed the kids,” the Gamecocks defensive line coach said. “They produce big plays because they have big playmakers on offense.”

Gurley and Marshall are two of the biggest, and fastest, and most surprising. The two newcomers were expected to provide depth this year behind returning standout Isaiah Crowell. Instead, Crowell was dismissed from the team in the offseason. Thus far, no one in Athens has missed him.

“In Athens, they are saying, ‘Isaiah who?’ ” said Josh Norris, an NFL draft analyst for Rotoworld.com.

Norris evaluates seniors and juniors who might enter the draft, but it’s hard not to notice the two young backs when the Bulldogs’ tape is on the TV.

“If you give them a crease, they are gone,” South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said.

Gurley (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) leads the SEC with 107.2 yards per game, and Marshall (5-11, 216) is seventh with 85.6 per game, and they are the main reason the Bulldogs lead the SEC in rushing offense (248.8 yards per game) and total offense (536 per game).

“As we all know, freshman running backs can certainly play and can play well,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said, thinking to Marcus Lattimore’s 182 yards against the Bulldogs as a freshman. “That’s a position you don’t have to have been there for two years and learn the offense and all that kind of stuff. We’ve got to make sure they don’t have room to run. That Tennessee game, I think two or three of their runs, I don’t know if a Tennessee player touched them.”

The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in rushing defense and seventh in the nation, allowing 77.6 yards per game. Their only vulnerability against the run came in the first half against Kentucky last week, when the Wildcats amassed 93 yards with a direct running attack much like the Bulldogs will employ.

“These running backs are really good from Georgia,” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. “Their offense is very potent. They aren’t No. 1 in the SEC for nothing. We’ve got our work cut out for us. There can’t be any slipups like there was last week.”

South Carolina’s issues in run defense were attributable to linemen being in the wrong place and not enough effort chasing ball carriers, Quarles said.

“We had some times we didn’t handle it well as a defense, and then we kind of settled down in the second half and did a better job with it,” Lawing said.

The Wildcats rushed 16 times for 27 yards in the second half.

“Georgia is different,” Lawing said. “They probably have better athletes up front and carrying that football, so we’ll see.”

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