When Steve Spurrier arrived at South Carolina eight years ago, the college football world may have assumed that the old Florida "Fun-n-Gun" offense was coming with him.
It hasn't exactly turned out that way.
In an odd twist, the Gamecocks have become one of the Southeastern Conference's best defensive teams on an annual basis. The Ol' Ball Coach brings another elite unit to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday to face the struggling Wildcats. South Carolina ranks No. 5 nationally in scoring defense (9.7 ppg), No. 8 in rushing defense (67.0 ypg) and No. 19 in total defense (300.25 ypg).
During his weekly Monday press luncheon, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips was asked if he was surprised that Spurrier's M.O. has changed over the years.
"It's the state," Phillips said. "I got a chance to coach in that state, and that's one of the reasons we started recruiting that state because there's so many defensive players.
"The year I was at South Carolina the Super Bowl (featured) seven kids from the state of South Carolina and none had played at South Carolina or Clemson. And that's one of the reasons why I said, wherever I go, we need to recruit this state every year because there's so many players and not all of them are going to Clemson or South Carolina."
Phillips said there's a particularly high number of defensive linemen in the Palmetto State, which has enabled the Gamecocks to build a strong foundation to their defense on an annual basis.
"They got 10 defensive linemen on their two deep. Eight of them are from the state of South Carolina. And then you look up the road at Clemson, there's probably eight more."
South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 SEC) features one of the best defensive linemen in the country in the form of sophomore end Jadaveon Clowney, a player Phillips says he would select No. 1 in the NFL Draft if he was a general manager. The 6-foot-5, 256-pound rush specialist already has 4.5 sacks to rank among the national leaders.
Quipped Phillips: "I think one of the things the NCAA should do is issue every team two of those type of guys, to make everything even. I would like to have Clowney and (Devin) Taylor is what they should issue everybody."
The challenge for Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC) is mounting an offensive attack against that defense on the heels of being shut out 38-0 Saturday at Florida. It marked the first time the Cats have been blanked since a 49-0 loss in 2006 at LSU.
Kentucky was without starting quarterback Maxwell Smith against the Gators. He was the SEC's leading passer entering that week, but was held out due to a shoulder injury he sustained late in the previous game against Western Kentucky. His replacement, Morgan Newton, completed only seven of 21 passes for 48 yards and was intercepted three times by the Gators.
Smith, who is averaging 322 yards and two touchdowns through the air, is expected to play Saturday, but his situation will be monitored closely throughout the week. The Cats also expect to get more practice reps for freshman Jalen Whitlow, who closed out the Florida game after Newton was ineffective.
Phillips said he thinks UK's new no-huddle, quick-passing offense may give his team a chance to be more competitive against the Gamecocks than last year's 54-3 blowout in Columbia. The Cats have allowed only four sacks through their first four games.
"We get the ball out of our hands a lot quicker," he said. "We have people in the flats a lot quicker also… We can put a tight end over there to chip in (against the pass rush).
"We've been a big screen team also that's helped slow down the pass rush, which you have to do. You have to get the ball out of your hands quick, have to have some screen capacity and also play actions, those type of things is what slow down the pass rush."
Cats prepare for elite Gamecock defense
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