The South Carolina football team began it's preparations for Halloween weekend match-up with the Tennessee Volunteers in Columbia Saturday night by spending two hours in the "bubble," Carolina's indoor practice facility on a rainy, dreary Monday night. The Gamecocks are coming off a 21-7 win at Vanderbilt to stay in sole possession of first place in the SEC East.
One of the keys to Saturday night's win was the play of the defense, particularly in the second half. The Gamecocks allowed only 70 total yards in the second half - 250 for the game - and shut down Vanderbilt's offense by allowing only three first downs.
"We played hard," Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said following practice. "We tried to make it simple for them in the gameplan and, again, we had one big bust early in the ball game. Other than that we were pretty good assignment-wise."
On the busted play, Vanderbilt's John Cole got behind the defense and Larry Smith hit him for a 35-yard completion down to the Gamecock 5-yard line. Smith would later find the end zone himself for Vandy's only points of the game.
The Gamecocks used a different strategy than it used in last week's stunning loss to Kentucky and it paid off, at least for one week.
"We played a lot more ‘man' than we normally play in a game, but we knew we were playing against a running quarterback," Ward said. "Hopefully we'll play more in the future.
"I think when you play ‘man' you eliminate a lot of indecision on young men," Ward continued. "They know they have a man and they play that man, but we have to do what the offense dictates to us."
The Gamecock defense should have more opportunities to get better this week when a struggling Tennessee team that is 0-4 in the conference. The Vols are 10th in the conference in yards per game and 11th in points per game. Linebacker Josh Dickerson says the Gamecocks still must be careful and not take the Vols lightly.
"Every week's a chance to get better," Dickerson said. "Tennessee hasn't been too successful on offense but they're still a good team."
The Vols are seventh in passing offense so the Gamecock secondary that is still dead last in pass defense will be challenged.
"Tennessee has always played well against Carolina," Ward said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us. We're blessed to be playing at home, but they'll throw the ball around so we'll have another opportunity to challenge their receivers."
The Gamecock defensive line suffered yet another hand injury early in the Vanderbilt game when defensive tackle Melvin Ingram suffered a broken hand.
"I really don't know (what happened), to be honest," Ingram said. "I just rushed the quarterback, came off, and my hand was messed up."
Ingram went into the locker room to be fitted for a cast and returned to the Gamecock bunch and played some more. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing said that Ingram, who donned the yellow jersey at Monday's practice, will play against the Vols.
"He's going to play," Lawing said. "I'm sure they'll put some kind of pad on it. He's going to let it heal on its own and not have surgery. He's a tough guy."
Ingram is the third defensive lineman to suffer a hand injury. Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye injured his hand prior to the season-opener, and defensive end Chaz Sutton suffered a similar injury to Ajiboye's a few weeks ago.
"We've had all kinds of hand injuries," Lawing said. "It's just one of those things that happens. We try to pinpoint what it is, but it just did.
"It limits them a lot," Lawing continued. "Until you learn what these (hands) are for you can't play on a defensive line. You've got to be able to use your hands. It's all about hands."
Though the Vols aren't the Vols of the past 20 years, they still like to do what they've been known for - running the football. The Gamecock defensive line will be facing the task of slowing down running back Tauren Poole, who is averaging 85 yards rushing per game. Poole is coming off a 117-yard game in the 41-10 loss to Alabama last week.
"That back they got is really good," Lawing said. "Poole, I believe, had over 100 yards against Alabama. I don't think another back has had 100 yards rushing against Alabama in 42 games. I respect Alabama's defense a lot so for him to do that is very impressive."
After two road games at Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks are just happy to be back home and playing in front of their home crowd, where they've won 12 of their last 13 games.
"I love Williams-Brice Stadium," Dickerson said. "I'm just happy to be back from these two away games and being back home to play in front of our fans."
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