If the South Carolina football team hopes to snap its three-game losing streak to Arkansas, the Gamecocks need to find a way to control the Razorbacks passing game.
After escaping with a 38-35 victory against Tennessee last weekend, when the defense allowed a season-high 381 yards through the air, the No. 11 Gamecocks (7-2) showed they still have some work to do in that area.
They entered the game allowing an average of 176 passing yards per game, but Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray picked them apart for much of the contest. With a week off before Arkansas comes to town, theyre determined to make improvements.
Were working on getting better and playing our assignments, doing the techniques weve been taught, and focusing on lining up right and getting to the football, USC senior safety D.J. Swearinger said.
Swearinger said the Volunteers featured a top-notch passing attack. The strong-armed Bray found his receivers for touchdown passes of 8, 37, 61 and 22 yards.
Like we say every game, youre either going to focus or youre going to fold, Swearinger said. Play by play, youve got to say that to yourself. Some plays we folded and didnt get the job done and missed our assignments. Were going to clean it up this week and get it right.
Thats a primary focus for USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward this week. He didnt like what he saw from his secondary and hes trying to shore up the deficiencies in practice.
Were trying to do some things that we havent been doing very well, Ward said. Weve got to be better at man coverage, and weve got to be better at zone coverage. Weve got to do a better job at disguising what we do.
In three consecutive wins against the Gamecocks, Arkansas has averaged 39 points and 310 passing yards per game. Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, the All-SEC choice in 2011, has averaged 332 passing yards per game this season. Wilson can present some of the same problems as Bray, although their offenses dont always go about things the same way.
Tennessee is a little different than Arkansas. Arkansas throws the ball an awful lot, probably more than Tennessee, Ward said. But Tennessee does a great job of spreading the field, and they go from sideline to sideline. Even though Arkansas is a throwing team, theyre going to do things that theyve done over the years and had success.
USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing said pass defense doesnt just fall on the secondary. He wants to see his linemen put more pressure on Wilson than they did on Bray.
It takes 11 people to stop the run, and it takes 11 people to stop the pass, Lawing said. So when theyre throwing the ball on us, the defensive front assumes a responsibility for it, too. Weve got to do a better job of affecting the quarterback.
In that regard, the defense stepped up when it counted in the fourth quarter against Tennessee with Bray driving the Volunteers toward a pair of potential late scores. They had reached the USC 19 with a little more than a minute to play when defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sacked Bray and caused a fumble recovered by the Gamecocks.
And when the Volunteers had a last-gasp opportunity, cornerback Victor Hampton intercepted a pass at the USC 38 with 13 seconds remaining.
Those are the kind of plays the Gamecocks need to pull off with more regularity against Arkansas.
Weve got to polish a lot of stuff up, Swearinger said.
DEFENDING THE PASS
The USC secondary allowed a season-high 381 yards passing against Tennessee. A game-by-game look the Gamecocks pass defense, which has been stellar for most of the season:
A quick look at USCs secondary:
Hgt./Wgt.: 5-10, 197
Key stats: 1 interception, 6 pass breakups
Hgt./Wgt.: 6-0, 189
Key stats: 2 interceptions, 6 pass breakups
Position: Free safety
Hgt./Wgt.: 6-0, 210
Key stats: 1 interception, 5 pass breakups
Position: Strong safety
Hgt./Wgt.: 5-11, 205
Key stats: 1 interception, 4 pass breakups