Big plays on USC’s defense almost ruin day

Turnovers help save Gamecocks before late lapses

dcloninger@thestate.comSeptember 28, 2013 

UCF Knights quarterback Blake Bortles (5) is pressured by South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) in the second half at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fl, Saturday, September 28, 2013.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

— Lorenzo Ward pointed out that No. 12 South Carolina’s defense had yet to get a turnover when the unit struggled two weeks ago. Get a few of those, and although the other struggles don’t disappear, they make a coordinator feel better while he’s suffering.

Not surprising that Ward could relax — but only a bit — when the Gamecocks intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble in Saturday’s 28-25 victory against Central Florida. He liked it, but he didn’t trumpet it. USC’s indifference in the secondary earned the Knights one 73-yard touchdown pass and a 79-yard pass to set up another score, each in the fourth quarter after the Gamecocks thought they had salted the game away with a 28-10 lead.

USC still got the turnovers but was left realizing how narrowly it dodged a bullet.

“We’re letting guys get too wide-open,” Ward said. “We try to play zone coverage, so if you got a lead, you don’t give up a big play when you play man, so we try to play zone. That’s way too many big plays in that situation.”

First, there was the turnovers.

Victor Hampton bailed out USC when he jumped a route and intercepted Blake Bortles in the second quarter, with the Gamecocks trailing 10-0 and having lost their quarterback. Jimmy Legree bagged a wounded duck when UCF tried to sneak in a specialty play, wide receiver Jeff Godfrey throwing across the field for a receiver he thought had snuck past the secondary.

Gerald Dixon then wrestled a loose ball from Bortles when he ran into Phillip Dukes on a run and lost the ball. Then T.J. Holloman intercepted Bortles when he underthrew an open man in the end zone as USC led 28-18 late in the fourth quarter.

For a while, it was the same old story. The Gamecocks were getting the big plays when they needed them. It was the same formula as in years past.

But it almost went to pot because USC couldn’t cover two big pass plays late in the game that got the Knights within a recovered onside kick of making the afternoon very interesting.

On the first big play, it looked as if Sharrod Golightly released the receiver to Brison Williams, and Williams didn’t respond. On the second, the same receiver, Rannell Hall, ran past Golightly, stepped out of Kadetrix Marcus’ tackle and would have scored had Hampton not chased him down.

Hampton didn’t know what the problem was. “I can’t give you a specific,” he said. “Just something that can’t happen.”

At the start of the game, UCF was running slants to big, fast receivers that USC couldn’t catch up to or bring down. Later, the Knights were going to Hall, their speedster who caught eight balls for 142 yards. The Gamecocks, as they have this season, couldn’t get into their gaps and couldn’t make the tackles when they did.

The turnovers helped and the defense adjusted, but then came the inexcusable lapse when leading by 18 points in the fourth. Ward saw his unit let a game get more interesting than it should for the second straight contest.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “I just think dealing with the young men we deal with, sometimes they become relaxed, think the game’s out of reach. That’s two games in a row this scenario happened. We’ve got to be better in those situations.”

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