What we've learned part II

We are already a third of the way through the 2012 football season and we have learned many things about the South Carolina team over the course of the first four games. In part II of the three part series, we take a look at what we've learned about the Gamecock defense.

Believe it or not, following Saturday's 31-10 win over Missouri, sixth-ranked South Carolina has completed a third of its regular season games. Carolina stands at 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC after the first third of the season and will begin the second third Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky. Through the first four games, we have learned a number of things about this South Carolina program.

Today we take a look at the defense.

1. No sophomore slump for Clowney

Regardless of the sport or at what level you always hear the phrase "sophomore slump." It's hard to pinpoint exactly what causes it, but there are many times when a player has a sensational first year he/she seems to struggle a bit in their second year.

That is not the case for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. If anything, he's gotten even better and that's hard to believe. Clowney finished last season with 36 tackles and eight sacks, but his biggest statistic was the five fumbles he caused. While Clowney has yet to force a fumble this season, he is nearly halfway to his total tackles from a year ago and just over half as many sacks. Clowney has 17 tackles and 4.5 sacks through the first four games of the season, well on his way to the numbers that earned him Freshman of the Year in the SEC and multiple Freshman All-American lists.

2. Those rabbits sure are fast

I first noticed the new "rabbit" package in the game against East Carolina and asked defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward about it after the game. He explained what it was and what they use it for, and defensive line coach Brad Lawing said that he's used that kind of package most of his career. He used it often last year with defensive ends Clowney, Devin Taylor, and Melvin Ingram, and tackle Travian Robertson. This season it has been four defensive ends; Clowney, Taylor, Chaz Sutton, and Aldrick Fordham. If you could ever picture a turtle chasing a rabbit, that is about what it looks like when the opposing offensive line is trying to chase those four ends. It has brought in huge success in passing situations. On third downs, the opponent has converted just 14 times on 59 tries, a percentage of 24%. Most of the time it has been with the "rabbit" package in the game.

3. These freshmen can play

It isn't often that true freshmen come in and make an immediate impact on a defense as good as South Carolina's, but that is exactly what Jordan Diggs and T.J. Gurley have done. Gurley has seen action in all four games and earned his first career start last week for the suspended D.J. Swearinger. He has recorded eight tackles in the first four games. It was Gurley who hammered Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers as he released the ball on that final fourth down play in the season opener. Diggs has only played in two games, but has stepped in to the back-up role behind DeVonte Holloman at spur for the suspended Sharrod Golightly, who returned to the team this past week. Diggs has made the most of his limited action, recording five tackles and one tackle for a loss. His performance has kept him as the current back-up behind Holloman.

4. Smart move for Legree

Last season Jimmy Legree did what any good teammate would do when asked to move to safety from corner. It turned out being a bad move. Legree struggled and was benched after the second game of the season, playing sparingly the rest of the season. Legree moved back to his natural position at corner in the spring and entered the fall as the back-up to Akeem Auguste. Auguste went down prior to the season with a groin injury and Legree battled Ahmad Christian for the starting job. Legree won the battle and was named the starter. He hasn't looked back since. Legree is second on the team in tackles with 20, has broken up three passes, and has one interception returned for a touchdown. Auguste is back this week, but Legree is still the starter. Victor Hampton may be the one having to watch his back in the coming weeks.

5. Bend but don't break

South Carolina's defense has bended several times this season, but have rarely broken. Outside of two late touchdowns by ECU and Missouri with the game well in hand and the starters sitting on the sidelines, Carolina's starters have given up one true touchdown in the season opener against Vanderbilt. Despite the two late touchdowns against ECU and Missouri, South Carolina is second in the SEC in scoring defense behind Alabama and fifth in the nation. The Gamecocks have only given up 9.8 points per game, while Bama has given up an impressive 5.2 points per game. Missouri's touchdown was the only red zone touchdown Carolina has given up in eight tries. With the likes of Georgia, LSU, Florida, and Tennessee coming up, it's going to take more impressive work like that for Carolina to remain a top 10 team.


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