Secondary hopes for improvement vs. Arkansas

USC defensive backs hope to shore up man and zone coverages for Hogs’ passing attack

nwhite@thestate.comNovember 1, 2012 

Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) is brought down by South Carolina Gamecocks cornerback Jimmy Legree (15) in the first quarter of their game at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday, October 27, 2012.


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, they’re determined to make improvements.

“We’re working on getting better and playing our assignments, doing the techniques we’ve 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, you’re either going to focus or you’re going to fold,” Swearinger said. “Play by play, you’ve got to say that to yourself. Some plays we folded and didn’t get the job done and missed our assignments. We’re going to clean it up this week and get it right.”

That’s a primary focus for USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward this week. He didn’t like what he saw from his secondary and he’s trying to shore up the deficiencies in practice.

“We’re trying to do some things that we haven’t been doing very well,” Ward said. “We’ve got to be better at man coverage, and we’ve got to be better at zone coverage. We’ve 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 don’t 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, they’re going to do things that they’ve done over the years and had success.”

USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing said pass defense doesn’t 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 they’re throwing the ball on us, the defensive front assumes a responsibility for it, too. We’ve 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.

“We’ve got to polish a lot of stuff up,” Swearinger said.


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:

Opponent C-A-I Yards
E. Carolina30-47-4333
Totals 157-274-10 1788


A quick look at USC’s secondary:


Position: Cornerback

Class: Sophomore

Hgt./Wgt.: 5-10, 197

Key stats: 1 interception, 6 pass breakups


Position: Cornerback

Class: Junior

Hgt./Wgt.: 6-0, 189

Key stats: 2 interceptions, 6 pass breakups


Position: Free safety

Class: Senior

Hgt./Wgt.: 6-0, 210

Key stats: 1 interception, 5 pass breakups


Position: Strong safety

Class: Senior

Hgt./Wgt.: 5-11, 205

Key stats: 1 interception, 4 pass breakups

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