Defense preparing for tough test

The South Carolina football team continued preparations for Saturday night's game against the Furman Paladins Thursday evening. The team practiced for a little over an hour in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. Assistant Head Coach Ellis Johnson met with the media afterward to discuss the Paladins, the play of the defense, and injury updates of SPUR Antonio Allen and linebacker Shaq Wilson.

"Triple option," Johnson said of what worries him the most about Furman's offense. "The execution of their offense. I've played and coached against (triple option offenses) now for 45 years and there's a common thread that is run through Art Baker, Dick Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, Bobby Johnson, Bobby Lamb - a lot of their blocking schemes, a lot of their philosophy of offense has been continued through that span."

The option offense has given Gamecock players, coaches, and fans nightmares in recent history.

Wofford ran it extremely well in both meetings, and even Alabama ran it very successful in the 2000 match-up with the Gamecocks.

The triple option is a difficult offense to prepare for because you don't see it a lot at this level. Other than the military schools and now Georgia Tech, no major FBS team runs this offense.

The Paladins piled up 377 yards rushing in their 45-15 season-opening win over Colgate last week. Back-up quarterback and former UCLA Bruin wide receiver Chris Forcier led the rushing attack. He only carried the ball seven times, but ran for 135 yards and an 85-yard touchdown. Running back Tersoo Uhaa ran for 126 yards on a team-high 16 carries and a touchdown, and running back Jerry Williams had 60 yards on 8 carries and a touchdown. The Paladins ran the ball down the field and starting quarterback Cody Worley would put it in the end zone. Worley was 9-14 passing for a 113 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Johnson says you probably won't see as much of the traditional triple option out of the "I" formation from the Paladins. Instead you will see more of a shotgun look that a lot of the spread teams use now.

"You see a little more of a change in the shotgun now and less "I" but they've still got an element of the triple-option, "belly" with a fullback, extremely good and well-executed short passing game," Johnson said.

Gamecock fans and players don't need to get frustrated with the amount of time Furman will have the ball Saturday night. The option offense is designed to wear down a defense and keep the opponent's offense off the field. While the Gamecocks have the depth to keep from getting worn down by the Furman offense, they will see the field a lot.

"They will stay on the field some on Saturday night and we're gonna have to be poised and not get flustered on defense," Johnson said. "If our kids come out there thinking they're gonna smother them they're going to be in for a rude awakening. They'll probably move the ball at times and we're gonna have to play really good defense and try not to give up any big plays."

One player the Gamecocks hope to get back this week is SPUR Antonio Allen. Allen suffered a hamstring injury covering a punt in practice prior to the Southern Miss game and has not played a snap until this week. Johnson said Allen should see some playing time this week.

"Physically he's fine," Johnson said. "Obviously he has not practiced in a long time. Just a lot of little things he has to pick up on, but he did well physically all week."

If and how much Allen will play against the Paladins is unknown. Allen's replacement, Damario Jeffery, has filled in nicely. Jeffery has 8 tackles and a quarterback hurry through two games.

"Situations will dictate that," Johnson said of how much Allen will play. "Damario deserves to start, but we want to play (Allen) because he really needs to get back in the flow of things. I think as the game goes we'll see how quickly he plays and how much he plays."

A player that has gotten tremendous praise is linebacker Josh Dickerson. Dickerson, who is playing in place of injured Shaq Wilson, has played well. The senior is one of four players with double-digit tackles (10) through two games and has been flying all over the field.

"He's played very well," Johnson said. "I've been pleased with him. I still feel like Shaq's the guy that can control everything out there as far as checks and calls and adjustments and has a better feel for everything, but all of our linebackers I've been very pleased with. Last year I was really disappointed toward the end of the year that I didn't get to play him more than I could because he really had a good spring leading into last year. He had an excellent spring this year so the fact that he's playing well as a linebacker doesn't surprise me at all. Dickerson, Straughter and Paulk have all played pretty good."

Wilson, who severely pulled his hamstring early in summer practice, still hasn't practiced since the injury. There is still no timetable on his return, but Johnson is optimistic.

"It's certainly improved," Johnson said. "I wouldn't venture a guess right now on a timetable, but he probably had the best week with it this week that he's had in a long time. The thing I was always most concerned about was that we lost our quarterback in there. I think that Shaq was a little more aware of formations and certain things other people were doing and probably a little more alertness that really helps the person beside him."

Coach Spurrier mentioned a possible redshirt following the Southern Miss game. After the Georgia game, Johnson said he hoped to have Wilson back by the Auburn game or the bye week. Johnson said after practice that a redshirt would be a possibility if he isn't healthy following the bye week after the Auburn game.

"The only way I would even think of feeling like a redshirt possibility is if he's not ready through the open date," Johnson said. "I'm not exactly sure on the technicality of the rule, but if he's still got a problem with it in the upcoming open date in two weeks what would scare me the most is that if he does come back on it it could be reinjured. If it's taken that long for him to get back on it then it's something that could jump up and get him again. If he's ready to roll before the open date at any point in time in the last 8 games of the season then I really feel like for our good and his good he needs to play."

The strength of the defense early on in the season appears to be rush defense as opposed to last season's D which was led by pass defense. The Gamecocks are only giving up 64 yards rushing per game, but giving up over 265 yards passing. Johnson believes that it's not a sign that his secondary isn't living up to its lofty expectations after last season's success as much as it is just the circumstance of the game.

"I'm not a big stat guy," Johnson said. "You look at it statistically we are [a top rush defense], but Southern Miss didn't try and run it very much. Last year we were always trying to win a game in the 4th quarter and people were trying to close the clock and probably ran the ball more. Our pass stats looked real cute and our run stats didn't, but in total "D" we did a good job. This year we've been giving up too much passing yards and not turning the ball over enough. Run defense has been pretty good. I thought Georgia had 3 or 4 successful plays. One way we measure every game is explosive plays by the other team and that's a 13-yard run or longer and 18-yard pass or longer, and I believe we only had one explosive run against Georgia and it was the first play of the game. They had some other successful runs, but if you get to the end of the ball game and you haven't given up many explosive plays you usually don't give up a lot of points."

One of the big cogs up the middle has been defensive tackle Melvin Ingram. Ingram only has one tackle through the first two games, but is used in certain packages to stuff the middle against the run. Ingram garnered attention yesterday after Spurrier said that he worked out at tight end in practice. Ingram continued to work out at tight end today, and Johnson is not sure how much Gamecock fans will see Ingram on the offensive side of the ball.

"I don't know what the reps will be," Johnson said. "I guess it depends largely on how much they need him - we're still double-training him. He starts on our third down package and he's played an average of about 30 plays a game right now on defense. I don't think he could ever play 30 on offense but he might have to. If he does we're gonna have to limit him on defense."

Furman will enter the game looking to knock off the Gamecocks for the second time in a row. The Paladins defeated the Gamecocks 28-23 in 1982. While the Gamecocks are certainly heavily favored in the game, Johnson does not appear to be too concerned about a possible let-down Saturday night.

"We've had a pretty good week of practice," Johnson said. "I don't think our kids are under any kind of illusion that we're some great football team yet, but still human nature is human nature. Thinking these kids are going to be wired like they do for Clemson or Georgia or Alabama, we've got to have enough common sense to know they might not. Hopefully we're mature enough and tough enough mentally that we're gonna go out there and tee it up and get after them Saturday. Furman's an excellent football team, and they've got tradition, and they've won in that stadium (Williams-Brice) before, and they don't fear anybody. They'll come in here ready to play."

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