Practice report: Defense ready for challenge

South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward knows what is coming Saturday; passes, and a lot of it. East Carolina loves to throw the ball all over the field and make the defense make plays. Ward is confident that his guys are up to the challenge.

The South Carolina defense enjoyed a solid game in last week's 17-13 win over Vanderbilt to open the season. They were several plays from being even better. A 78-yard touchdown pass, a mistimed jump for a potential interception and a reception to set up the final field goal were all Vandy could muster despite being given excellent field position most of the night due to a struggling Carolina offense.

"We didn't play bad the first game," Ward said Thursday afternoon. "We gave up three big plays. If we eliminate those we played good based on the field position we had. Most good teams do show the most improvement from the first game to the second and we expect that out of our guys Saturday."

The next test for the ninth-ranked Gamecocks is a completely different test. While the Carolina defense was able to get to Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers five times, they face an East Carolina squad that gave up just 30 sacks all of last season and gave up none to the Gamecocks in last season's opener. ECU relies on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands as soon as possible in various ways.

"That's the style of offense they play," Ward said. "They're not going to sit back and hold the ball a lot. The quarterback is going to get rid of the ball and we have to play well in space. It puts a lot of pressure on us but hopefully we can take on the technique and fundamentals that we taught in the spring and fall and small camp and utilize it."

While the defensive backs will have their work cut out for them Saturday afternoon with an ECU offense that threw 524 passes last season and 43 passes in last week's 35-13 win over Appalachian State, the defensive line will still have a job of getting to the quarterback as quick as possible. There will be little change in the game plan from the one they used last week.

"We feel like we can still hit the quarterback," Ward said. "We're still going to be in an aggressive mentality. Even though the quarterback is going to get rid of the ball quick that's just going to make us play tighter coverage. We're going to do what we do and hopefully we'll execute better."

One of the advantages of having two well-built defensive ends in Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney is their length. Not only are they lightning quick and extremely strong, they are long and tall. At 6'8 and arms up Taylor is easily eight feet to have to throw over, and at 6'6 Clowney will be tough to throw over as well. That is something that ECU quarterback Rio Johnson did not see last week against the Mountaineers and something he didn't see last year in the limited amount of action he saw.

"They're quick getting rid of the ball so if you don't sack them do the next best thing and that's jump at the line of scrimmage and try and bat some balls down," Ward said. "We've got to get in the passing lanes and make the quarterback move his feet and feel uncomfortable."

Another problem that ECU presents is tackling. The Pirate offense relies on getting the ball to the receivers in space and let them make plays. They do not throw the ball downfield a lot and will try and get the ball to the receivers inside the chains in one-on-one and make the defender tackle them. With coaches not allowing much contact in fall camp to avoid injuries that puts a lot of extra pressure on defensive backs early in the season to display good form and make the tackle. With the exception of the Brison Williams missed tackle on the long touchdown the Gamecock defense were pretty sound in the tackling department against the Commodores.

"I thought they did well," Ward said. "The thing that you have to do when you don't do it a lot live in practice is take the fundamentals that you're taught on tackling and do them. I thought Jimmy (Legree) was great on the perimeter and we all tackled very well for really their first opportunity live to do it."

Legree was entered into the starting line-up after winning the competition with Ahmad Christian following the injury to Akeem Auguste. After not performing well in his two starts at safety last season there was a lot of uneasiness about Legree being placed in the starting line-up, but the junior stepped in and had a great game against Vanderbilt. Legree finished with seven tackles, including one for loss, and broke up a pass.

"Coach (Grady) Brown has done a great job with Jimmy and teaching him things that we expect from him and what we expect in each coverage, and Jimmy is doing those things," Ward said. "I think he is developing a confidence in himself to continue to do that and I think he will continue to get better."

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories