Brad Edwards: Defensive Analysis
Desiring a win over the Tennessee Volunteers and making one happen are often two different things for a majority of Division I football programs. Clearly USC fans desire that year in and year out, and in 2008 not only did the Gamecocks make it happen, but defensively they simply dominated the Volunteer offense from start to finish.
Yes, we all are aware the Vols entered the game ranked in the triple digits in some offensive categories, and yes, they are devoid of playmakers and are without a real philosophy strategically. But this is a program that has won close to seventy-five percent of its games since the early 1990's. Tennessee also has, lurking along its sidelines, a number of outstanding athletes which is why they made it to the SEC championship game a year ago. All that is to say that this effort by USC's menacing defense was exactly what it was - a convincing win over a talented yet ineffective offensive unit.
I have come to value teams that go out and do what they are supposed to do, and Steve Spurrier's defensive unit did just that. Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson and staff obviously did their homework and implemented an exceptional gameplan that was executed by the players about as well as one could have hoped. The Gamecocks started the game much like they have done in previous contests by not tipping their hand with respect to blitzes, etc. and waiting to see what the offense is going to give them early on. USC did dodge a bullet near the beginning of the game when Tennessee lined up two receivers to their right in a stacked formation. Clearly UT was hoping to catch USC in man-to-man coverage in the secondary so that the two receivers could run a designed pick play. That is exactly what happened, and fortunately for USC the throw from the quarterback was wide and was eventually caught out-of-bounds.
Other than that play and the well executed early 3rd quarter pass into the Gamecocks' two deep coverage, there was really nothing successful against the USC defense for the rest of the night. Once the Gamecocks started blitzing on their second series, the Volunteers looked completely confused and had no answers for the run or pass blitzes. The only time the Volunteers had any success running the ball was the time or two they caught South Carolina with a three defensive linemen front on a second down.
As we were all able to see, the swarming and blitzing style of this defensive unit proved to be opportunistic, forcing a key interception and fumble in the first half. That is the mark of a terrific defense. Even more to the point, the Vols first half series ended like this: punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, fumble, punt, punt. It doesn't get much better than that from a defensive standpoint, and by half-time the game was USC's to lose. The Gamecocks once again showed that they know how to finish games and were able to keep UT stymied for the rest of the night.
Obviously there were a number of fine individual performances, most notably Stoney Woodson's interception return, but for the most part credit has to be given across the board, particularly the front seven. I will say that with a little added muscle and some continued experience, Chris Culliver may develop as a "man among boys" in the secondary. His athleticism and ability to get to the football is second to none.
Overall, another fine performance by the players and an exceptional job of coaching by the staff.
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