Swearinger playing with confidence

It's no secret how good the Carolina defensive unit has been this year. For five games it's done everything asked of it, putting the Gamecocks a great position to win each football game. Right in the middle of everything has been junior safety D.J Swearinger.

He's second on the team in tackles with 48 and he's picked a ball off in three straight games.

Against Mississippi St., Swearinger's diving interception ended a potential game-winning drive for the Bulldogs, sealing a 14-10 victory for Carolina.

And in Knoxville last weekend, quarterback Connor Shaw had just thrown a third quarter pick that the Volunteers returned to the 2-yard line. If UT punches that one in, it leads 10-7.

But Swearinger came up with an interception just a play after Shaw threw his, and Carolina followed up with a back-breaking 98-yard, 11-plus minute touchdown drive.

"D.J. is playing with a lot more confidence and poise right now," safeties coach Jeep Hunter says. "He's got a great attitude about things. When you've got that great attitude and you're playing with confidence, you just play well."

But what's changed from last year to trigger Swearinger's breakout year? He had just as many opportunities last year but didn't have near the effect he's had on games this year.

"He's a lot more mature than he was last year," Hunter says. "He sees things a little better, so he's able to make plays. When you know what you're doing, when you study the game like he's studying, then you're going to make those plays."

Coaches and players agree something else has changed on the defensive side of the ball that has them playing looser and with more confidence. Simply put, there's less thinking going on.

"You can say that we probably don't have to make a lot of those checks that we were making," Swearinger said. "It makes the defense simpler and gives us more confidence when we don't have to think about a play. We just go out there and have fun and that's one thing we want to do while we're playing football is have fun. And we've been doing that."

"We've simplified a lot of our coverages to where we don't have that many and (make) fewer mistakes. That's a big part of it," head coach Steve Spurrier says. "Just the guys playing hard, playing their assignments, playing with effort and getting a pretty consistent rush has been helpful. We have good athletes. When they know what to do and are in position, I know that's helped us this year compared to what we did last year."

But this Saturday, D.J. and the gang won't be across from freshman first-timer Justin Worley and the "rocky bottom" Volunteer offense. The opposing offense will be a couple notches above that of Kentucky and Mississippi State, the Gamecocks' two opponents before Tennessee. In fact, they'll be face to face with the best offense in the Southeastern Conference in Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks.

Defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Lorenzo Ward says there's "no question" the toughest task the defense has faced this season.

"They're very talented at all skill positions. They have three good receivers and a tight end that can run. Definitely the biggest challenge we've had."

If the offense continues its ineptitude, there's no telling what kind of performance Swearinger and the defense need to put forth in order to leave Fayetteville with a win. Well, D.J. seems to think the word "big" sums it up.

"Big players make big plays in big time situations. And that's what I try to do. That's what all of us try to do. That's how you're a championship defense - When you make big plays when you need them."

If Swearinger can help replicate the results we've seen over the last five games, the Gamecocks will be a whole lot closer to calling themselves a championship defense.

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