Big plays turn the tide for USC defense

Forced turnovers help Gamecocks hold off determined Terriers

Special to The StateNovember 17, 2012 

The South Carolina coaching staff talked all week about how frustrating it was preparing for the Wofford option attack after not seeing an offense like that in the opening 10 games. It was just as frustrating defending it Saturday afternoon but a quick flurry in the fourth quarter made it all worthwhile in the Gamecocks 24-7 victory against the Terriers at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The defense set up one touchdown and scored another 37 seconds later to break open a game that was tied going into the fourth quarter.

“We feel like we have guys that are capable of making big plays when they have to,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “They got us on our heels a little bit and D.J. (Swearinger) made a big tackle and caused a fumble. I think our guys started to step it up even more at that point. I’m proud of this group.”

The turning point came in the middle of the fourth quarter with USC clinging to a three-point lead.

Wofford had converted two fourth-down plays in its territory before the USC defense found a way to get a stop when they needed it most.

On a fourth-and-1 from the Wofford 34-yard line, Devin Taylor and Reginald Bowens stuffed Eric Breitenstein for no gain. Five plays later, Connor Shaw connected with Ace Sanders on an 8-yard scoring pass to give the Gamecocks breathing room.

On the next Wofford possession, Bowens again had a big play when he forced Breitenstein to fumble. Akeem Auguste scooped it up and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. That was the final of three fumbles the Terriers had on the day.

“Turnovers got us,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “If we don’t turn the football over — and we had been taking care of the ball really well — then that other side might be a little sad right now.”

After facing pass-happy offenses in Tennessee and Arkansas the previous two games and having another one next week against Clemson, the Gamecocks had to do everything they could to keep the Wofford attack under wraps.

They got off to a solid start by forcing the Terriers to go three-and-out on their first three possessions. Wofford got its intinial first down with 7:52 remaining in the second quarter before the Terriers suffered their first fumble to stall that drive.

The next Wofford series was the option attack at its best. Breitenstein carried the ball the final seven plays and scored on a 2-yard run with 32 seconds remaining in the half to make it a tie game going into the break.

After getting a defensive stop to start the second half, Wofford was again controlling the clock and moving the ball deep into USC territory when Swearinger forced Octavius Harden to fumble and Brison Williams recovered.

Swearinger finished his home career with 12 tackles, 11 solo with one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“I think I had a decent last home game, 12 tackles is a good game for me,” Swearinger said. “I wanted to get a forced fumble today, I hadn’t had one all year so I think I had a productive day and went out with a bang for my last home game.”

Ward said a change in defense helped control the Wofford rushing attack in the second half.

“We had a defense we were set to run when they went 20 personnel — which is three receivers and two backs — and at halftime we decided to run it against their 21 personnel,” Ward said. “It actually helped us in the second half. It was a stunt that blitzed the formation and we finally stopped them. When they went for it in our end of the field, we knew it was going to be a four-down series every time.”

Now the Gamecocks must change gears again and get ready for a high-powered Clemson attack next week in Death Valley.

“We will prepare a lot differently,” linebacker Shaq Wilson said. “We will definitely work on more pass defense. We kind of know what they do because we play them every year. We will be ready for them.”

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