Talented d-line lives up to hype

Heading into Saturday night's matchup with Vanderbilt, South Carolina was yet to see a truly dominating performance from its star-studded defensive line. Not that it was under-performing, but it was perhaps due to a lack of opportunities to shine. That all changed with a dominating six-sack performance.

Heading into tonight's matchup with Vanderbilt, South Carolina was yet to see a truly dominating performance from its star-studded defensive line. Not that it was under-performing, but it was perhaps due to a lack of opportunities to shine.

The season started against an East Carolina offense that utilized mostly quick passes and three-step drops, making sacks a rarity. In Athens, 11 total touchdowns headlined an SEC shootout. And against Navy, the triple option attack doesn't ever give the defense much of a chance to stand out, unless its in a negative light.

But on Saturday night the Gamecocks' front four was finally able to get cozy in the opposing team's backfield.

Senior defensive lineman Melvin Ingram and freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sat down at Saturday night's post-game press conference with smiles that stretched from ear to ear. They positioned themselves comfortably in their seats and answered each question modestly.

Both maintained the same childish grin that told the story of the night, more so than any of the words they spoke.

Vanderbilt's offense was stifled at Williams Brice Stadium, scoring just three points on a first half field goal after an interception gave the offense the ball at the Carolina 16-yard line. It managed only 77 yards of total offense with a paltry four yards rushing. On third downs, which have been Carolina's achilles heel in its first three games this year, Vanderbilt was just 1-for-14.

"I thought our players played physical for the whole sixty minutes for the first time this year," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who received a game ball from head coach Steve Spurrier.

Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith was roughed up all night until he left the game in the third quarter with an injury courtesy of a Jadeveon Clowney strip sack, his second of the game. Smith was sacked six times.

"Their athleticism up front was obvious. We struggled with that all night," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "We got way too many hits on our quarterback."

Assistant head coach Johnson says the success his front four had of getting to the quarterback is a reason the entire unit had the night that it had.

"We really ran a lot of our base defense. When your able to get to the quarterback with four people effectively, it makes calling the game pretty simple."

Ingram was all over the place once again, tallying four tackles including three for loss, two sacks, a pass deflection… And oh yeah, another touchdown, his third on the year. This one came in the first quarter when he fell on a fumble in the end zone after Clowney's first strip sack of the game, similar to Melvin's second touchdown against Georgia.

"I thank him every weekend," Ingram said of his pupil. "If it weren't for him, there would be no me. If it weren't for me, there would be no him. We're like brothers. I feel like he came here and he's just like my little brother. I love him to death."

There's another way to look at the two "assists" from Clowney that came in the form of strip sacks that ended in a Melvin Ingram touchdown celebration. Maybe it's Clowney's way of thanking his elder for the knowledge Ingram has imparted on the 19-year-old freshman.

"I'm learning a lot from him," Clowney said. "He's been teaching me since I stepped on campus."

Even after one of the best defensive showings in the last quarter century of Carolina football, Ellis Johnson insists there's nothing particularly special about this unit.

"I don't want to give any false pretenses. We are a blue collar group," Johnson said. "We're just old simple pound cake. We got a few cherries… but there's nothing special about the talent on this defense."

Rather than skill, its hard work that gives this unit and team a potential to make history. Perhaps they're realizing that just in time.

"I think they may be waking up to the fact that we're not going to roll their helmets out on the field in this league and be very good," Johnson said. "We're going to have to practice and we're going to have to come to the park with a chip on our shoulder, or we're just pretty average."

There are plenty of gaudy defensive numbers behind Carolina's 21-3 thumping of the previously undefeated Vanderbilt Commodores. But this is something that doesn't concern Ellis Johnson. In fact, come tomorrow morning, I think there'll be only one thing on Ellis Johnson's mind.

"You can take your stats and go wallpaper your powder room. We won the game and we don't have a lot of time to dwell on that," Johnson said. " 'Cause I think what we better do is get ready to play Auburn."

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