Improved Run Defense To Be Tested Saturday
In fact, with the exception of one poor showing against the Wofford option attack, the Gamecocks have been relatively stout against the run this season. In the five games since that poor showing against the Terrier option offense, the Gamecocks are only surrendering a mere 106 yards per game on the ground and are holding opponents to 20 yards below their season rushing averages. What's even more impressive than that, however, is that the USC defense is limiting opposing offenses to only 3.3 yards per carry in that time span.
Junior defensive end Ryan Brown credited the defense's improvement to having more team speed on the field and playing better assignment football. "We've got a lot of speed on our defense, and it's just us gelling together and knowing our assignments. That's one of the things that Coach Nix talked about the whole offseason, being smarter and being faster on the football field," said Brown.
Such progress is to be commended for a defense that features twelve freshmen and sophomores on the two deep, but the Gamecocks improved run defense will arguably face their toughest test of the season on Saturday when Arkansas brings their high powered ground game to Columbia for a primetime showdown. The Hogs feature what many consider to be the best backfield in America with the tandem of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and with a large, experienced offensive line paving the way, the Razorbacks are averaging over 235 yards per game on the ground.
Brown knows that the Razorbacks will present a difficult challenge, but he believes a key for the Gamecock defense will be limiting the big plays on Saturday. "As a team, you've got to pack your defense when facing Arkansas. It's going to be an all out running game, and we're just going to try to stop their running game and stop all the big plays... We know they're going to try to come in there and run the ball down our throats, but we're just going to try to stop them from doing that," said Brown.
The Razorbacks have had success running the ball on every team they have faced this season, so the question is not if the Gamecocks can stop the Arkansas offense, but rather if they can contain it. Brown stated that Saturday's game will simply come down to which side is able to make the necessary plays. "It's going to come down to who's going to make the big play and who's going to just man up and play football."
While the Arkansas running game gets all of the publicity, the Hogs passing attack thrives off the opposition selling out to stop the run. Freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain is rarely asked to win the game for the Razorbacks, but he does play efficiently in his role of complementing the Hogs ground game. Brown stated that the Gamecocks will have to be prepared for both dimensions of the Arkansas offense on Saturday. "(Mustain) is a pretty good quarterback from what I've seen, but they run the ball a lot, so it opens up the pass when they do pass the ball. We're just going to try to stop the run and minimize the big plays when they try to throw the ball," said Brown.
The Gamecocks managed to escape Fayetteville with a hard fought 14-10 road victory over Arkansas last season, despite being nearly doubled up in total offense. USC was able to win that game by coming up with timely stops, playing efficiently on both sides of the ball, and making enough big plays to come out on top. They will look to have a similar showing on Saturday night when the 12th ranked Razorbacks come to town, according to Brown. "(Last year) the game came down to who made the plays, and the ball bounced our way a lot. This year we've just got to make more plays than they make against us."
Kickoff between South Carolina and Arkansas is set for 7:45 p.m. (EST), and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
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