Run defense key to slowing down Bulldogs
Head Coach Steve Spurrier made it clear on Tuesday afternoon that if his team is going to pull the upset between the hedges this weekend, Carolina's defense will have to compete at a much higher level than they have the last two times they've faced off against the Bulldogs.
"Georgia has run for over 200 yards each game the last two years," said Spurrier. "We need to slow down their run a bit. We've been good in scoring defense and hopefully that will continue. We can't let them stay out on the field and run up and down on us. We'll try to tackle better, play with a little bit more effort, and be in the right position."
The Gamecock defense garnered a lot of hype during the pre-season, as the unit returns ten starters from a year ago and added an infusion of young talent from the highly touted 2007 signing class. However, the defense did not get off to a stellar start in the season opener, as Louisiana Lafayette's zone-read option attack gave Tyrone Nix's unit fits at times, racking up 252 yards on the ground. The good news for South Carolina, however, is that they will face a more traditional offense this Saturday, and will have the opportunity to redeem themselves against Georgia.
"(Louisiana Lafayette's success) shook us up a little bit, so we're going to find out if our guys can stop the run," said Spurrier. "We hope we can tackle a little better and slow (Georgia) down somewhat on the ground and give them a good, close ballgame."
Even though new Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo is calling the plays for the Bulldogs this season, not much has changed in UGA's offensive philosophy. Georgia, who features a dynamic running back tandem in Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno, is still a run-first offense that pounds the ball on the ground in order to set up the play-action pass. In their season opener against Oklahoma State, the Bulldogs had nearly a 2-1 run to pass ratio, running the ball 47 times and throwing it only 24 times.
In preparation for the smash mouth game that lies ahead, the Gamecocks are considering starting linebacker Dustin Lindsey, who is nearing full speed after tearing his ACL in the spring game, ahead of sophomore Rodney Paulk at strongside linebacker.
"(Dustin Lindsey) may end up starting this week if he's healthy and gets through practice today and tomorrow," said Spurrier. "Dusty is a bigger linebacker than some of our guys. He's tough and likes to hit people. There's a chance he may be out there a lot more. He was expected back by the third game, so he's a little ahead of schedule."
D. Lindsey, who was academically ineligible during the 2006 season, last played in 2005, when he started four games at middle linebacker and ranked third on the team with 58 tackles. If he is given clearance to play this weekend, the 6'3", 240 pound Lindsey will team up with All-SEC middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley (6'2", 262 pounds) and versatile weakside linebacker Casper Brinkley (6'2", 257 pounds) to give the Gamecocks one of the biggest and most physical starting linebacker corps in the SEC.
Casper and Jasper Brinkley, both Georgia natives, will play a big role in South Carolina's run defense on Saturday night.
Dustin's twin brother and senior defensive end Jordin Lindsey is still awaiting word from the NCAA on whether he will be academically eligible to play this season. Jordin, arguably USC's best run stuffing defensive end, was sorely missed in the opener, as USC featured four underclassmen defensive ends on the two deep against ULL. While highly touted true freshmen Travian Robertson, Cliff Matthews and Clifton Geathers undoubtedly have a bright future of them on the defensive line, they are better pass rushers at this point in their careers than they are against the run. Enter senior defensive end Ryan Brown.
Brown, a 6'0", 256 pound defensive end who started eight games last season, was the forgotten man in fall practice with all of the hype garnered by the young talent at d-end. However, after not cracking the depth chart last week, Brown, who is more experienced and more comfortable playing against the run than the freshmen, will have a chance to compete for a starting spot opposite Eric Norwood this week in practice.
All of these moves are being made in preparation for what many are calling the biggest game of the Steve Spurrier era at South Carolina. If the Gamecocks can emerge with a win in Athens, that could catapult them to a special season in SEC play. If not, a tough conference road still lies ahead. One thing's for sure - If Carolina hopes to win on Saturday night, the defense will have to step up to the challenge and slow down Georgia's vaunted ground game, forcing sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford to beat them through the air.
"We've got to stop the run to give us a chance to play this year. You can't beat teams giving up 250 yards (on the ground). It's hard to do," said Spurrier. "We'll know a lot more about our team after the game Saturday. Hopefully we'll come out with a lot more fire and determination and passion and all that kind of stuff Saturday afternoon."
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