Two weeks ago, Marty Markett was a special teams only player. Saturday night when the South Carolina football team takes the field against the Florida Gators for the SEC East championship, Markett will be a starter on defense. With Chris Culliver's season-ending injury against Tennessee and C.C. Whitlock suffering a concussion against Arkansas, Market will be thrust into the starting line-up in the "Swamp."
"He's done well," Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said. "He had some really good coverages the other night in a tough situation."
Johnson says that Whitlock may be able to play, but he has not been able to have any reps all week.
To say that Whitlock will be challenged early and often is an understatement. Florida coach Urban Meyer is known for exploiting a defense's weak point and going after it over and over again until the opponent stops it. The Gators will run and throw it right at Markett until he proves that he can step in and make a play.
"He's going to get tested Saturday," Johnson said. "He's had a pretty good week of practice. There's a learning curve with the number of reps, but I think he's probably ready to play."
While the Gator offensive attack is not a pass-happy attack, the Gators will throw the ball around if that's what it takes. The Gators only average 200 yards passing per game, but the Gators have surpassed that mark in each of the last two games including 277 yards against Vanderbilt last week.
"The route concepts are not as diverse as an Arkansas because that's 70% of Arkansas' theory and about 30% of Florida's," Johnson said. "But anytime you've got speed and you've got a guy that can throw the ball and anytime you have to spend as much time on their option as we have, it can be as effective."
What the Gators really want to do to be effective is the run game. The Gators use misdirection, options, end-arounds, and anything else it takes to move the ball. While the Gators average less than 160 yards on the ground per game, in their biggest wins they have passed the 200-yard mark.
Most of their recent success has been the use of three quarterbacks, sometimes all three being on the field at the same time. John Brantley will be more of the pocket-passer, Trey Burton is the option-quarterback, and Jordan Reed will be the bruiser as well as the passer.
"There's only one combination of personnel that they do that Brantley is not out there," Johnson said. "He's out there with 8 (Burton), he's out there with 11 (Reed), and you've got 8, 12, and 11 all out there together. You have to check it at the line of scrimmage and you have to have a little bit of versatility. That's the hard part - you can't go in there and play simple assignment - because eventually they're going to scheme you up. But if you try to get too complicated with the speed of the pace the kids are going to start making mistakes."
With a struggling, banged up secondary the last thing the Gamecocks need is to have complicated assignments. Ranked last in the conference in pass defense all season and now without a starter and possibly his back-up, things are even more frustrated for a secondary that showed so much promise a year ago.
"I think they're frustrated," Johnson said. "Some of our brightest kids back there have made the worst mistakes. Some of our most aggressive kids have missed tackles and etcetera. I think they know they haven't played as well as they can, but I don't sense anything but frustration and a desire to get better.
"The thing about is - whether we win the East or not - our guys understand that we really haven't played well," Johnson continued. "We've had problems with assignments and we've got musical chairs with our depth. I think the focus is on playing as good as we can play. They obviously want the rewards for all the hard work they've done and I hope they get it. The talk really hasn't been what this is for. We've just got to go down there and win a ball game and what that leads to is sort of secondary."
The bottom line is this; win the game Saturday and the frustration from the fan base goes away. Anytime someone brings up the struggles in pass defense, the response will be that it was just good enough to win the school's biggest game and its first SEC Eastern Division championship. That's really all that matters. At least for one week.
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