"What makes us go, and I tell the players this—our identity is how the front four play," said defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
There's a premium on a solid line play when No. 17 South Carolina comes to town with running back Marcus Lattimore, who's rushed for 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns during his freshman campaign.
"The running back, you don't need to say anything. If you don't know what the running back is, and you're sitting around this table, you're probably in the wrong building," Steele told reporters at the West End Zone on Tuesday. "He's a special player."
With nearly 30 years of coaching experience under his belt, Steele listed the talented running backs he's seen.
Just on the teams that he's coached, Steele's seen the likes of Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Mark Ingram, Ahman Green, Lawrence Phillips and Leon Washington.
It's an impressive group, to say the least.
"They've all got some little nuance that makes them different," Steele said. "But the bottom line is, really, probably the thing that jumps out to me, [Lattimore has] really got exceptional vision. His vision is very good. He feels where that crease is. If you're not in your gap, and you're not controlling your gap, he finds it."
Hence the importance of sound play along the defensive line.
"The key to our success…how the front four play," Steele said. "If they're dominant up front, then it makes everything a lot easier.
"It makes playing linebacker easier. It makes playing safety and corner easier. It makes calling the game a whole lot easier."
There's not much that's easy about this week's test.
For his money, Steele ranks Steve Spurrier among the best coaches in the area.
"Obviously, he's the master. I don't know that anybody over the long haul in the South has done it any better," Steele said. "They confuse me sometimes, because you hear this guy's calling the plays and that guy's calling the plays. Every time you see him on television he's got a game plan in his hand, and he's always covering up his face. I don't know who he's talking to or what he's talking about.
"I've got a lot of respect—always have—for the way he's done things as a head coach and as a play-caller."
Spurrier also has the luxury of dialing up plays to a wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery that's able to go up and grab just about anything thrown his way.
"You play that team, that's something you've got to defend…he's good at it," Steele said.
At 6-foot-4 Jeffery has 70 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
The second-leading receiver, Tori Gurley, who's 6-5, has 39 receptions for 384 yards and four scores.
Aside from the 5-7 Ace Sanders, the Gamecocks' wide receiver corps is very tall. The rest of the depth chart includes: Lamar Scruggs (6-3), D.L. Moore (6-4) and Jason Barnes (6-4).
"It's a pretty big group. They're an impressive group," Steele said.
The guy throwing the ball up for grabs to those guys—Stephen Garcia—has completed 175 of 257 passes for 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He's also a threat to run, with 146 yards rushing and six scores.
"He pops it out there—it seems like it's in every tape—for 12, 14 yards, two or three times a game," Steele said. "Then, he's going to pull it down and effectively scramble for a couple of first downs a game, in passing situations."
Bringing truth to the old cliché
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