Notebook: Defense dominant again

In a 21-3 win over Vanderbilt two weeks ago, the South Carolina defense held the Commodores to just a field goal and under 100 yards in the win. Saturday against Kentucky the defense did the same, limiting the Wildcats to just 96 yards of offense in a 54-3 win. It was the biggest margin of victory over an SEC opponent.

Facing its second shaky offense in three weeks, the South Carolina defense did everything it could to shut down Kentucky in the same manner they shut down Vanderbilt two weeks ago.

They did just that.

Facing almost the exact situation as the Vanderbilt game, an early turnover deep in Carolina territory forced the defense into a tough situation. This time it was right off the bat as Bruce Ellington fumbled the opening kickoff at the Carolina 26. Josh Clemons and Morgan Newton carried the Wildcats inside the 10-yard line, but like Vanderbilt, the defense held and forced the Wildcats into an early field goal. Much like two weeks ago, that would be the last time Kentucky resembled anything like an offense the rest of the game as the Gamecocks rolled to a 54-3 victory over the Wildcats in an SEC East match-up.

"Defense was outstanding," head coach Steve Spurrier said following the game. "They just kept getting it back and getting it back. That's why we had 91 (offensive) plays. Kentucky only made six first downs the whole game and under 100 (total) yards. That will help our defensive stats."

Morgan Newton may share the same last name as last year's Heisman-winner Cam Newton, but that's about where the similarities end. Newton struggled throwing the ball the entire game, attempting more passes than passing yards. Newton finished the game 4-of-21 for 17 yards and was picked off three times. He had slightly better success running the football, finishing the game with 54 yards on 14 carries, but had a fumble with less than a minute left in the first half that nearly led to Gamecock points. Fortunately for Newton and the Wildcats, Jay Wooten missed a field goal with two seconds left in the half, but it was little consolation on a miserable day for the Wildcat offense.

As a team, Kentucky had just 96 yards of offense on 53 plays - an average of less than two yards per play – and six first downs in the entire game.

Carolina forced Kentucky into six turnovers, intercepting four passes and recovering two fumbles. Newton threw one interception, back-up quarterback Maxwell Smith threw two interceptions in just four passes, and Josh Clemons threw one on a halfback pass. D.J. Swearinger, Victor Hampton, Stephon Gilmore, and C.C. Whitlock intercepted passes.

"I thought the coverage was a lot better," Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said. "We had some great pass rushes at times. We've gotten some players back from the early part of the season (injuries and suspensions). There's competition and rotation when they get tired; a lot of factors are creating the improvement. I still think we can be better back there."

Reginald Bowens was credited with a forced fumble and Devin Taylor and Byron Jerideau each recovered fumbles. Carolina has now forced 28 turnovers this season, nearly six turnovers a game.

"We forced turnovers even in the opening part of the season when we weren't playing well in all areas," Johnson said. "When you have a defense as fast as we are, if you play your assignment and you are in position you're going to get your share. Creating turnovers is pressure on the quarterbacks - we've blitzed well over the over the last few weeks."

For just the third time this season, the defense failed to record a sack (East Carolina and Navy), but it wasn't from a lack of pressure. Carolina was credited with just three hurries, but they were in the face of Newton all afternoon, forcing rushed throws that led to incompletions and interceptions and getting the team off the field. Kentucky attempted to throw quick passes in a style that East Carolina used, but the coverage was tight all afternoon.

Like the Vanderbilt game, the Gamecock defense got off the field when it had the opportunity, allowing the Wildcats to convert just 2-of-13 third down conversions.

"We left some points on the board, but they gave us so many opportunities to go and score," Quarterback Connor Shaw said. "Our offense is very appreciative to our defense and how they played today."

Johnson still stands by his comments that this is not a great defense and they will only be successful if they come out and work hard every week in practice.

"I know what we are and I know how we practiced this week," Johnson said. "There are some things we do well and some things we don't do well. It's about their attitude and I think they stepped up today. They played through the plays and played through the series' and they played through the quarters. We have some players that could play for anybody, but we have some players that are just blue-collar."

The Gamecock defense will continue to try and improve as it hits the road next week to take on Mississippi State in Starkville.

"We played well last week, but they made 11 third downs on us," Spurrier said. "Today and Vandy were the two dominant games and we have to carry this on. The defense is playing well after a rough start. Hopefully we're hitting our stride."

Tight ends Cunningham and Anderson have good day

Very rarely has the tight end position been used much since Spurrier has been at South Carolina. In Saturday's win over Kentucky, the tight end position was used often by quarterback Connor Shaw.

"That was just the game plan," Spurrier said. "Justice had an excellent day; let's give him credit. He blocks and blocks, catches a few balls, and blocks. He and Buster (Rory Anderson) were out there a whole bunch."

On the first drive of the game, Shaw hit the freshman tight Anderson coming left across the middle as the rest of the offense went right for a 46-yard gain all the way down to the Kentucky 20. That would set up Shaw's first touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery on the following play as the Gamecocks took the lead in the first quarter.

That would be Anderson's only catch of the game, but that would not be it for the tight end position. Justice Cunningham caught 5 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. With Carolina leading 7-3 on the Kentucky 11-yard line, the Gamecocks lined up in the Emory and Henry formation with each tackle lined up in front of the receivers and only the guards and center in the normal position. Cunningham lined up behind right guard Terrence Campbell, Shaw faked a handoff to Marcus Lattimore, and found the wide open Cunningham releasing for an easy touchdown pass to give Carolina a 13-3 lead.

"I just tried to put it on him," Shaw said. "When someone's open you kind of panic a little bit, but I thought I did a pretty good job of putting it on him and he made a pretty good catch."

"It's always nice to get a catch or two, but I'm just doing whatever they want me to do," Cunningham said.

The return of Jeffery

Entering Saturday's contest, Jeffery has not had quite the season the Biletnikoff finalist from 2010 expected to have. Jeffery suffered from quarterback Stephen Garcia's struggles, catching just 19 passes for 332 yards and just two touchdowns. With Shaw at the helm Jeffery saw his numbers increase rapidly and touchdowns double. Jeffery caught six passes for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jeffery now has 427 yards and four touchdowns on 25 receptions.

"We wanted to throw it at him," Spurrier said. "He ran some good routes and was open a bunch. We didn't hit him every time (he was open) but we got some balls to him."

Jeffery's first touchdown came on the opening drive when he hauled in a 20-yard reception to give Carolina a 7-3 lead. Jeffery, in one-on-one coverage, ran one of his patented corner routes and Shaw delivered a beautiful pass for the score.

"It just gets the offense in rhythm - him in rhythm," Shaw said. "When a sophomore quarterback comes in you have to get the ball to #1 early and often."

Jeffery's second touchdown reception was a 24-yard reception on the same play on the other side of the field as, again, Shaw delivered a beautiful ball over the shoulders of Jeffery to put the game away early, giving the Gamecocks a 20-3 win midway through the second quarter.

"It was just us practicing," Jeffery said. "We ran a lot of plays this week, so we just try to keep it simple and I was just open."


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