The biggest obstacle for the defense of the tenth-ranked South Carolina football this week has been Mother Nature. On what could possibly be the biggest day of preparation for the Gamecock defense, they got about 30 minutes of work in before being forced to move indoors due to severe weather Wednesday afternoon.
"We were definitely out of routine (this week due to the rain)," assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said Thursday afternoon. "We didn't practice yesterday much. I think we got about 30 minutes in then the storm came. We wanted to try and get back out but the rain stayed a little longer than normal so we went through a walk-through and then the clock got us. I was a little concerned."
The reason Johnson was concerned is that Wednesday is when the defense focuses on third down passing defense, a sore spot for the defense. After facing Navy last week, it has been two weeks since the defense has been able to focus on third and long situations.
"Last week was a week that we didn't spend any time in third down and long, nickel and dime packages and that's where we're not getting off the field," Johnson said. "We wanted to put an emphasis on it this week and we got rained out yesterday so I hope today we got some things ironed out."
Carolina will face off against Vanderbilt in the first SEC home game in a battle of 3-0 teams. Vandy is under the control of first-year coach James Franklin and has gotten off to a great start in a new offense with fifth-year senior Larry Smith.
"They've been more of a triple-option team over the last couple of years with some other things mixed in," Johnson said. "They're more of a pro style attack now. Not as much of the options, but they still have that. Smith can really run it because he's done it for three years. He's very capable of hurting you on that. They do still have the option element."
The South Carolina defense has seen it all through the first three games of the season. They faced an arial attack against East Carolina, a traditional offense in Georgia, and the triple-option of Nay. Though Vanderbilt's offense will resemble Georgia's, they will show the Gamecocks some things they haven't seen before.
"They're doing a lot better with formations," Johnson said. "They've got tackle-eligible (receivers), they've got unbalanced sets, they've got a lot of things with tackles over, a lot of things that your players have to be alert on. They're finding ways to get down the field in the throwing game and get their break-away runs in the running game by unorthodox formations and they're doing a heck of a job with it."
Vanderbilt uses a wealth of weapons when they have the ball. Zac Stacy, Jerron Seymour, and Smith can all hurt you with their legs, and Smith has 10 different receivers, none more than seven times.
"They're doing a good job of making you aware of everybody. They have very good running backs and their wideouts are making plays. I think you have to affect the quarterback like you have to do in any game. I don't think they have a go-to guy right now."
Johnson can only hope the challenges the defense faced during the first quarter of the season will have them ready to step it up the remainder of the season.
"We've seen everything under the sun for the most part," said Johnson. "Really, you see that in college football quite a bit. (Vanderbilt's) option is not anything like Navy's. Playing three really good football teams offensively and having all be very different has certainly challenged our players mentally. We'll have to see if it helps as part of our development."
- Johnson said corner back Akeem Auguste will not play this week. Auguste has played in only one game, Georgia, due to a foot injury.
- After suffering a concussion during the Georgia game and missing last week's game against Navy, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles returned to practice this week. Johnson did not specify whether or not Quarles will see much action this week.
- Victor Hampton will play for the first time in his Gamecock career. Hampton will play back-up to Stephon Gilmore Saturday. Johnson said if both Hampton and Gilmore are on the field at the same time, Gilmore will move to the other corner position.
Third down defense focus Thursday afternoon
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