The failure of South Carolinas defense against LSU last week was no more complicated than all its successes leading up to that game.
There is nothing special about playing defense. Its 11-on-11, Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. You have to fit your gap right. We try to keep it simple so the guys see the things we do over and over, and we continue to get better at it.
Saturday was a step back. LSUs 11 were better than the Gamecocks 11, and the Tigers rushed for 258 yards in a 23-21 win. The test this week could be greater than the one the Tigers presented. Florida is second in the SEC in rushing with 233.3 yards per game.
We have to stop the run, thats my biggest concern every week, Ward said. If we play a team that throws the ball 40 times a game, our No. 1 goal is to stop the run. We have to stop the run. If were going to win and play good defense, we have to stop the run.
They had done that until last week, and South Carolina still is fourth in the SEC against the run (108.7 ypg allowed), and is fifth in the country in scoring defense (12.3 ppg allowed) and 12th in total defense (296.3 ypg allowed).
Ward was promoted from secondary coach to defensive coordinator in January to replace Ellis Johnson and has spent the 10 months since demystifying defense. Its not calculus, Ward has stressed again and again. Its not even algebra. Its elementary school math.
I have said since Day 1, we are going to keep it (simple), Ward said. The bottom line is getting lined up. We have 11 good players. If you have good players, let them play.
Linebackers coach Kirk Botkin calls the scheme likable and learnable.
Its the players that make the basics work, secondary coach Grady Brown said.
We have a really good scheme, and have really good players. When you have that combination, you really dont have to reinvent the wheel or anything like that, Brown said. Its really about doing what the players feel comfortable doing and putting them in a position where they can play fast, they can play with confidence and they can recognize certain situations and down and distance.
The Gamecock defenders have fewer decisions to make before the snap of the ball this year than they had last year under Johnson, senior safety D.J. Swearinger said.
We dont have much to talk about before the play, Swearinger said. You make one check, maybe two and just play football.
That allows South Carolinas defense to play faster than it did a year ago, Swearinger said.
Its comfortable because we know we are not trying to do too much, he said. We just get lined up and, once you get lined up, you just play fast and try to beat the guys in front us.
Coach Steve Spurrier, at least until Saturday, was happy with the result of the simplified scheme.
The other team doesnt have guys running wide open, Spurrier said. Very few mental mistakes for our guys.
The struggles against LSU had nothing to do with mental mistakes, several USC defenders said this week, and they believe the issues they had against the Tigers are fixable before Saturday.
I believe in the young men I coach every day, Ward said. We believe in the system that we run, and we feel like we can play with anybody if we do the little things.