D-Line breakdown

A much needed off week is now behind the Gamecocks, and now they look toward their upcoming matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing was asked to break down his unit as they move toward the final stretch of the season.

For all of the ups and downs so far this year, Steve Spurrier's USC Gamecocks went into their bye week sitting at 6-1, and tied atop the SEC East at 4-1 in conference play.

The dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia and loss of running back Marcus Lattimore have certainly put the Gamecocks in a difficult position, but so far, the only blemish remains a tight loss to Auburn on October 1st.

Offensive struggles are always a cause for concern, but the defense has once again come up big for USC, as they sit near the top of the SEC in several important categories. With a strong, experienced secondary lining up behind them, the Gamecock defensive line has been able to use quite a few young faces to help torment opposing offenses.

The Gamecocks are currently fourth in both scoring and total defense in the SEC, and are third in the conference with fifteen total sacks. Coach Brad Lawing spoke last week and described his unit's progress throughout the year. He also singled out young players Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles as two who have made big strides through seven games.

""Kelcy's done a tremendous job," said Lawing. "He likes playing football, and he plays fast. His fundamentals have gotten better, coming in here in spring practice helped him. Kelcy's become a fine football player. I have a production ratio I use, and right now he's one of the four most productive defensive lineman we've got. I told him a week ago, you're reps are going to go up in the game because you're being more productive. He's pushing to be the starter right now."

The freshman has contributed thirteen tackles and one tackle for a loss so far, and Lawing said that what he loves most about Quarles is his emergence as a real playmaker.

"I put a lot of stock in the guys that can make plays," said Lawing. "You know, there's block gobblers, and there's playmakers. There's hunters that depend on rain and sun for food, or there's hunters who go hunt down their food. You're either a block gobbler and farmer, or you're a hunter, and a playmaker. Kelcy's going to be a really fine football player as long as he continues stays humble and knows he has a lot ahead of him to learn. He's done everything we've asked of him."

Lawing said that one of the things he has been most pleased with has been the persistence to learn and play well by his inexperienced linemen, and that hitting a "freshman wall" was not going to fly with any of his players.

"No, to me that's an excuse," said Lawing. "If you love playing football, there is no wall. You want to play hard every day."

A three man rotation of Travian Robertson, Aldrick Fordham, and Quarles has emerged at defensive tackle, but Lawing said there are some other players pushing for more time. But, he said, it may depend on the circumstances of the game as to who he believes can contribute.

"J.T. Surratt has made a lot of improvement, and I would not be adverse to putting him in the ballgame," said Lawing. "In tight games, it's human nature, if it gets tight, I want my best guys out there, that's just the bottom line."

One area that the South Carolina defense has struggled has been on third down, giving up 40-percent of third down attempts to opponents. Lawing said that was an area the Gamecocks could really work on, and that staying on assignment was one big thing the defensive coaches would continue preaching to their players.

"I haven't really noticed more of that, but that's the key to getting off the field on defense," said Lawing. "If one guy blows an assignment on defense, it can be a hundred percent catastrophe. We've just got to make sure we take care of that on defense. If you miss an assignment, and you leave somebody open they're going to find him. We've got to be on our toes as far as that goes. No missed assignments, no missed tackles, and hopefully we can get some turnovers."

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