The last two weeks have been a complete 180 for the South Carolina defense. After being a big question mark after the first three games of the season, the Gamecock defense quickly turned it around by holding Vanderbilt to under 100 yards in a 21-3 win. Last week Carolina lost their first game of the season, a 16-13 loss to Auburn, but it wasn't the fault of the defense. Despite being on the field for 92 plays, the Carolina defense held the Tigers to under their season average in yards and just 16 points.
"I don't how good all the teams are that we've played," Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said following Thursday's practice. "I think when you get to the end of the season you find out that all the preseason hype and preseason rankings and polls really weren't very accurate."
What the Gamecocks faced in the first three games is an ECU offense that is averaging 372 yards per game to 345 yards before struggling against Georgia, giving up 436 yards. Carolina returned home to face the triple-option attack of Navy, but found a way to stop the Navy offense late in the game to preserve a 24-21 win. A downfall in those three games that was a plus the past two weeks is third down conversion defense. Against Vanderbilt and Auburn, they were able to get off the field, something they couldn't do in the first three games.
"I'm very proud of the way we've played effort-wise," Johnson said. "My biggest concern is we have some mental mistakes and some technique errors sometimes at the point of games where we can shut someone down and we're not pulling the string. That's the step I would like to see us take this week – finally finish something in a complete manner."
South Carolina faces a Kentucky team that is at the bottom of every offensive statistical country in both the SEC and country. Kentucky is last in scoring and total offense, and eleventh in both passing and rushing offense. While they have had to play two tough defenses in Florida and LSU, but also struggled with the likes of Louisville and Western Kentucky.
"Kentucky is very capable of moving the football on anybody," Johnson said. "They moved it up the field on Florida a couple of times. When they do get stopped it's because they shot themselves in the foot and make a mistake here or there. But they've got good players. They're a very capable football team."
The Gamecocks may be down a key piece of the defense Saturday. Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram injured his foot in last week's game and may not play Saturday. He hasn't practiced all week, but Johnson is a bit more optimistic than he was at the beginning of the week.
"It was a more optimistic comment on him today than it was Sunday or Monday," said Johnson. "It's not a real serious thing, but something you have to take seriously. It looks a lot better than they thought it would. I just don't know if he'll have a shot this Saturday. He hasn't practiced obviously, but it's more optimistic than it was."
Another lineman that has missed some time this week, though not due to injury, has been freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney missed two practices, going home to settle an issue and an academic meeting according to Johnson.
"He hasn't had as much practice and for a young freshman you get concerned about him being clean on the gameplan," Johnson said.
Akeem Auguste, who played in the Georgia game through a foot injury, has not played since and will not play this weekend. The coaches now face the decision of possibly shutting him down for the season, likely to be made during the off week.
"It's getting to that point, but no decision has been made," Johnson said.
One player that recently returned that continues to make strides is safety Brison Williams. After suffering what could have been a season-ending injury in fall practice, Williams made his return last week against Auburn, recording two tackles.
"He's making a step every day," Johnson said. "He was a lot more pleasing when he first came back – we thought he would be a lot further behind than he was. He's still making progress so he's not ready to start or anything yet."
Defense looks to continue improved play
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