Notebook: Early scores don’t faze USC defense

Ward earns honor; seniors hope to leave with a rivalry win

dcloninger@thestate.comNovember 28, 2013 

South Carolina has won the past four rivalry games against Clemson despite trailing in three.

Why?

“We had a lot of good football players,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Tuesday.

One-liners aside, Ward has liked how the defense has responded when the Tigers posted an early score three of the past four years. It’s become a case of, “That’s all you get until we say otherwise.”

Considering the Gamecocks have won by 17, 22, 21 and 10, it’s accurate.

This year’s defense has grown up during the season, playing its best in the second half of the season. While not dominant, the Gamecocks are much more fundamentally sound.

“The defensive unit this year, we’ve played 11 ballgames, and five times they’ve scored on the first drive,” Ward said. “Hopefully, we can not let that happen this year. We definitely don’t want to give up points, but we don’t panic when we do.”

Recognized

Ward was named one of 40 nominees for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach, on Wednesday. The Gamecocks are third in the SEC in total defense (344.4 ypg. allowed per game) and fourth in the conference in scoring defense (20.3 ppg. allowed).

“I think we have several assistants that could be excellent head coaches, and certainly Lorenzo Ward is very capable. Yeah, I would say he’s probably getting ready,” coach Steve Spurrier said.

It stretches across time

USC seniors Ronald Patrick and Jimmy Legree each said they’ve received words of encouragement from former players this week, telling them to take care of business. Text messages abound this time of year, but the Gamecocks’ phones are buzzing with “Beat Clemson” texts, not holiday greetings.

Each is also recognizing how special winning on Senior Day would be.

“For me, the motivating factor is it’s my last home game,” Patrick said. “Winning streak on the line, playing against Clemson, I really couldn’t picture finishing my last game any better.”

Potential

As bowl matchups are being discussed, an attractive possibility has popped up for USC.

Should the Gamecocks be selected for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the potential opponent could be Duke.

The Blue Devils (9-2) play North Carolina on Saturday. With a win, Duke will clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division and head to the ACC Championship Game to play Florida State. Even if the Devils don’t get to the ACCCG, they have clinched back-to-back bowl berths for the first time in school history.

Spurrier had his first college head coaching job at Duke and led the Blue Devils to the 1989 ACC championship. He had two winning seasons in three years in Durham, although Duke didn’t go to a bowl in 1988.

Spurrier pulls for his old team every week.

“I’ve always said I was a Dukie as well as a Gator,” he said on Tuesday. “That’s the school where whatever kind of football coach I became, that’s where I learned whatever I learned. I always pull for those guys, always. Hopefully, they can win this last one and get to the championship game.”

Irony

USC Athletics’ official Twitter feed announced earlier in the week that former great Steve Taneyhill will lead the “Game-Cocks” cheer before USC takes the field Saturday. Taneyhill, now a successful high-school football coach, remains the Gamecocks’ career leader in several categories, including touchdown throws and pass completions.

Taneyhill also beat Clemson twice during his four-year career (1992-95), but he never did it at Williams-Brice Stadium. He twice beat the Tigers at Memorial Stadium, 24-13 in 1992 and 33-7 in 1994.

Staff writer Josh Kendall contributed to this report. Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

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