ORLANDO, Fla. — Lorenzo Ward pointed out that No. 12 South Carolinas defense had yet to get a turnover when the unit struggled two weeks ago. Get a few of those, and although the other struggles dont disappear, they make a coordinator feel better while hes suffering.
Not surprising that Ward could relax but only a bit when the Gamecocks intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble in Saturdays 28-25 victory against Central Florida. He liked it, but he didnt trumpet it. USCs 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.
Were letting guys get too wide-open, Ward said. We try to play zone coverage, so if you got a lead, you dont give up a big play when you play man, so we try to play zone. Thats 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 didnt know what the problem was. I cant give you a specific, he said. Just something that cant happen.
At the start of the game, UCF was running slants to big, fast receivers that USC couldnt 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, couldnt get into their gaps and couldnt 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.
Weve 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 games out of reach. Thats two games in a row this scenario happened. Weve got to be better in those situations.
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