Defense wants to keep from giving up big plays

jkendall@thestate.comNovember 24, 2012 

D.J. Swearinger

C. ALUKA BERRY — File photo

  • KEYS FOR USC’S DEFENSE USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says his unit must “affect” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. A look at three key Gamecocks’ defenders: JADEVEON CLOWNEY Sophomore, End He leads USC 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He sat out last week’s game against Wofford with knee and foot injuries. D.J. SWEARINGER Senior, Cornerback/Safety He is the biggest hitter of the defense and one of the team’s top playmakers with an interception and a fumble return for TDs. He’ll play different spots in the secondary. SHAQ WILSON Senior, Linebacker He leads the team with 72 tackles, including a career-high 14 stops at LSU. He also has two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Clemson’s offense is an avalanche of numbers.

The Tigers are fourth in the nation in scoring (44.6 yards per game), sixth in total yards (535.6 per game) and ninth in passing yards (332 per game). They’ve scored a school-record 63 touchdowns (one-third of the nation’s 120 FBS teams have fewer than half that many). Last week, they ran 102 plays, amassed 754 yards and had scored 62 points on Maryland before the fourth quarter began.

“Without a doubt, they will be the best offensive team we have played against,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks defense hopes to answer that overload with a single digit of its own – one, as in one more play, don’t let the Tigers score long touchdowns, force them to execute one more time.

“If you keep them in front of you, you give yourself the opportunity to line up again,” secondary coach Grady Brown said. “If you let one get behind you, that’s an easy strike. We want to make them have to line up again. We want to give them another chance to make a mistake, give ourselves another chance to make a play.”

Last year, South Carolina held a Clemson offense that finished No. 24 in the country in scoring to one touchdown, but the Tigers are better this year because quarterback Tajh Boyd is leaner and more experienced and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is in his second year, Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.

Boyd should be a Heisman Trophy contender, Spurrier believes. He has thrown for 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and 54 of his completions have covered more than 20 yards.

“If we don’t affect the quarterback, it’s going to be a long day for the Cocks,” Ward said.

Boyd is a much bigger running threat than he was last year thanks to better conditioning, Ward said. He is Clemson’s second-leading rusher with 466 yards on 140 carries. His improved running skill makes Clemson’s offense most similar to the one Auburn ran with Cam Newton at quarterback and Gus Malzahn calling the shots, Ward said. (Malzahn and Morris are friends who have traded offensive notes for almost a decade.) The combination of Newton and Malzahn averaged 45.5 points in two games against South Carolina in 2010.

It also will help the Tigers to play in Death Valley, Ward believes, because the friendly environment will allow the offense to communicate better and thus play faster.

“I think it’ll be a totally different tempo because they are playing at home and we have to be prepared for that,” Ward said.

Clemson’s system is only half the battle, maybe less, Ward said. Boyd, running back Andre Ellington, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and tight end Brandon Ford are the best combination of skill players South Carolina has faced this year, Ward and Spurrier agreed.

Watkins is the headliner with his blazing speed (“Whether he runs a 4.2 or a 4-flat, you have to play football at the end of the day,” South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger said when asked about Watkins. “With techniques, you can handle speed so we’ll be ready for whatever he brings.”), but Hopkins is having a better year, with 68 catches for 1,171 yards and 15 touchdowns.

“I will say that No. 2 (Watkins) and No. 6 (Hopkins) are the best we have seen all year,” Brown said. “I don’t know if I’d take 2 over 6 or 6 over 2, but together they are the best we have seen in terms of being athletic.”

The Gamecocks are 13th in the nation in points allowed (17.45 per game) and yards allowed (310 per game).

“We played really well defensively last year (against Clemson),” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, that will give us some confidence we can hold those guys down. Certainly, I think they’re a lot better offense than they were last year at this time.”

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