USC Defense Shows Marked Improvement

USC Head Coach Steve Spurrier and USC defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix discussed the defensive effort in the Gamecock's victory over Vanderbilt, and how far the defense has come since last year's Vanderbilt game.

Steve Spurrier tells you exactly how he sees it. If your team has just been pummeled by Spurrier's team, which has been the most likely outcome for opponents during most of his gloried coaching career, then he comes off as arrogant and "Steve Superior." South Carolina fans are beginning to get used to the fact now that he is their coach that he really does just call ‘em like he sees ‘em.

The Spurrier perceived as overly cocky and flamboyant has seemingly been missing since he became the head coach at USC, but those in the media who cover him regularly are just waiting for the Gamecocks to put it all together under Spurrier before those perceptions pop up again when Steve just calls ‘em like he sees ‘em. South Carolina showed glimpses of what fans expect from a Spurrier team in the win over Vanderbilt Saturday. Spurrier said if not for the penalties and turnovers, it was the best game by his team since he'd been here.

Since coming to Columbia, South Carolinians have found his frank assessments cut both ways, and that Spurrier showed up for a moment in his post-game press conference. On assessing his defense‘s performance Saturday, he bluntly said, "We've got a different defensive coordinator. We're more organized now. Guys know what they're doing." That was a reference to former USC defensive coordinator John Thompson, whom Spurrier demoted after Vandy shredded the USC defense last season behind soon-to-be NFL first-round draft choice Jay Cutler. Cutler, who completed 27 of 49 passes for 339 yards last year, may be gone, but he's not forgotten. VU was giving away bobble head likenesses of him before the game.

Spurrier put Tyrone Nix in complete charge of the defense after the Vandy game last season, and Thompson was gone soon after the last regular season whistle blew. The USC defense has been better for it, showing improvement over the second half of last season and thus far this season. In the five straight SEC road victories that USC has had since then, the USC defense has given up just 55 points.

Defensive tackle Nathan Pepper, who picked up a fumble late in the game and was tackled just short of returning it for a touchdown, said. "Being on the road, you've got to have your defense out there. We just put a real focus on that."

One of the biggest noticeable differences between the 2005 and 2006 games was the performance of Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett, who in 2005 had 16 receptions for 204 yards and a 41-yard touchdown against the Gamecocks. Bennett came into this year's contest leading the SEC with 41 receptions, but the USC defense limited him to four receptions for a season-low 16 yards.

"They had great coverages in their game plan, and they did a good job of shutting us down in the passing game." Bennett said. "We came out and didn't play as well as we should and didn't execute." Coach Nix said there was no special focus on Bennett. "We just tried to play our assignment. Whoever was on him took the challenge of competing," Nix said. "We knew he was a big part of their offense. But we didn't do anything special coverage-wise. We just challenged the guys that lined up whether we were in man or zone to do their responsibilities."

Nix referenced the road winning streak by saying, ""We seem to play a little bit better on the road than we have at home. Hopefully we can turn that around and start playing the same way in Williams-Brice Stadium or better from here on out. That just shows you we have the potential and we have the talent to do it. We just have to be a more consistent defense."

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