When you give up three touchdowns in five possessions and blow an 18-point halftime lead, you've got to make some changes. That's exactly what happened Saturday night as Kentucky rolled up 247 yards in the second half to overcome a 28-10 halftime deficit to upset 10th-ranked South Carolina, 31-28, Saturday night.
"I thought we were focused today in practice," Gamecock defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said following practice Monday night. "We did some things defensively - a lot of pass skeleton - and try to get better in pass defense."
The Gamecocks allowed Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline for career-highs in both passing yards and passing touchdowns with 349 yards and four touchdowns. The Gamecocks played a lot of soft coverages and gave the receivers a lot of cushion, something they didn't do in the historic upset over then-#1 Alabama.
"We didn't execute what we had been practicing all week," Gamecock safety DeVonte Holloman said. "The scheme is good. We just didn't execute it."
Whether it's the scheme or the execution something has to be changed. If the problem is the scheme it needs to be changed to be more successful. If it's the execution, the scheme needs to be adjusted to put the players in a position to execute better.
"We'll still do some of that (play off the receivers)," Ward said. "But we're going to play a lot tighter coverages. We'll play a lot more ‘man' in certain situations than we have in the past."
"We've got to play with what we've got to play with," Ward continued. "That's the same team we beat Alabama with that we've got to try and beat Vanderbilt with."
The Gamecocks just don't have the depth to make wholesale changes, and this is pretty much the same secondary that was one of the best in the country a season ago. That is what is so mind-boggling about the struggles of the secondary this season.
Equally as mind-boggling is the blown coverages. In each game this season there was at least one blown coverage that led to big plays. In both losses, the game-winning touchdowns were the result of wide open plays by blown coverages. Against Auburn, Cam Newton found tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen in the back of the end zone for the eventual game-winning 7-yard touchdown pass. Then it was Hartline that found wide receiver Randall Cobb wide open for the 27-yard game-winning touchdown Saturday night.
"We're going to try and put them in a better situation," Ward said. "We'll probably give them ‘man' in that situation. If you've got a man you've got a man instead of having them trying to read out in a zone coverage."
"It's a lot easier to play ‘press man' than ‘off,'" Ward continued. "I just think there's a lot of room for error, but we have to play off sometimes. When we ask guys to do that we've got to do better with technique and fundamentals and making that open-field tackle like C.C. (Whitlock) missed. But one play didn't lose the ballgame and we made a lot of bad plays."
Next Saturday's game against Vanderbilt will be a perfect opportunity to correct the multitude of mistakes the secondary has made this season. The Commodores are 11th in the SEC and 90th in the country in passing offense, averaging just 162.5 passing yards. The Gamecock pass defense has been equally as bad, ranking dead last in the SEC and 110th nationally with 270.8 yards per game.
"Hopefully we execute a lot better," Holloman said. "You'll see the corner's playing a lot more aggressive than usual so we'll be ready."
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