Spurrier defends Ward, staff; defense could shake up lineup

Coaches say unit’s struggles could lead to new starters

dcloninger@thestate.comOctober 6, 2013 

  • GAMECOCKS VS. RAZORBACKS

    WHO: USC (4-1, 2-1 SEC) vs. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2)

    WHERE: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.

    WHEN: Saturday, 12:21 p.m.

    TV: WOLO, TWC 5

    RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5

South Carolina’s defense has struggled through its first five games, which was somewhat expected considering the unit’s youth and some key injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause or that there needs to be a shakeup of staff.

Steve Spurrier said so Sunday.

“I’ll tell you what kind of job he’s doing,” Spurrier said of defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward during his weekly teleconference. “We were 11-2 last year, and he won the bowl game the year before as defensive coordinator. So his record as defensive coordinator is 16-3, and if you check the history of South Carolina football, he’s the winningest defensive coordinator, percentage-wise, in the history of the school. So that’s how he’s doing, OK?”

Spurrier spoke of his respect for Ward, pointing out that Ward didn’t forget how to coach from season to season, and that he thinks highly of all of his defensive assistants.

Spurrier hinted that there might be some personnel changes in the lineup, but he’s completely satisfied with the defense’s staff.

“I think Lorenzo’s an excellent coach, as well as all the other coaches,” he said. “There’s some things we can do better, our players can do better. We’re going to try to see if we can make that happen.”

The Gamecocks gave up 301 yards in a 35-28 win against Kentucky on Saturday, 123 yards on the ground. They did not collect a turnover but recorded two sacks and four tackles for loss, despite defensive end Jadeveon Clowney not playing. Unlike last week, there were no 70-yard passes, but there was a 33-yard toss late in the fourth quarter that led to a Kentucky touchdown, a play where there was a missed assignment.

Spurrier said there would be a re-examination of the lineup.

“We’ll announce those later in the week,” Spurrier said. “But there may be some new starters here and there. But that doesn’t mean we’re firing the guys, it just means we’re saying, ‘Hey, play your assignment, play your assignment the best you can. Man-to-man, stay with your man, don’t leave your man to hopefully guess where they’re throwing the ball or whatever.’ That’s part coaching.

“I’m a firm believer in what John Wooden said. If players don’t play the way you’re asking them to play, you got to put them on the bench. Simple as that. We have not done a good job of doing that. So we’re probably going to do that a little bit for the next few games.”

The Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) are about to embark on a three-game road stretch, first at Arkansas on Saturday. The Razorbacks (3-3, 0-2) have dropped three straight games — at Rutgers, Texas A&M and Florida — and still are looking for their first conference win under first-year coach Bret Bielema.

Spurrier sees some similarities between Bielema and how USC has had to define itself this year. Bielema is playing Big Ten-style football in his first year, relying on a powerful rushing game and hoping to get enough defense to survive. Spurrier joked that’s how USC has had to play this year.

The game should be fast-paced. The Razorbacks’ Alex Collins leads the SEC in overall yardage with 651. USC’s Mike Davis, the SEC leader in average yards per game, has 614. With quarterback Connor Shaw also able to keep defenses off-balance with his legs, the Gamecocks are hoping to add to Arkansas’ recent defensive woes. The Hogs have given up over 34 points per game the past three weeks.

USC is hoping to get enough fixed on defense to slow down the Hogs’ offense and establish an early lead. The Gamecocks’ offense is giving the defense some breathing room.

“That’s just sort of the way we played,” Spurrier said. “Other team stays out there a while, we stayed out there a while, lot of seven-minute drives. We have not made a lot happen rushing the passer, knocking the ball loose. We haven’t had much of that this year, although we got some turnovers at Central Florida last week. That was very helpful in beating those guys. Other than that, we’re not a team that gets a lot of turnovers.”

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