Brad Edwards: Defensive Analysis
I can honestly say I'm not really sure where to begin on this one, and that is keeping in mind I only have to discuss one side of the ball. The facts, or the stats I should say, are what they are and they aren't pretty for what was at one point in the season one of the better defensive units in the country.
The Gamecock defense came out of the locker room with the appearance that they were ready to play, particularly after the first series of the game and after Chris Culliver's hit causing a Clemson fumble, but it was all downhill after that. From that point on it was all Clemson, as the Tiger offense rolled up 383 total yards and 31 points. USC had no answer for the running game, yielding 185 yards on the ground, which at the same time allowed Clemson to control the football throughout the remainder of the afternoon.
Probably the most telling statistic, and in my mind the most surprising one, was wrapped around the six first half plays that went for 20 yards or longer, including a 50 yard pass that proved to be a backbreaker to the Gamecocks. Up until the Arkansas game, USC's defense had defined the term bend but don't break, but over the last two weeks that element disappeared from the Gamecock playbook. For a defensive unit with this much talent, it is hard to explain the big plays they rendered in the first half. My guess is that it was just a void of leadership on the field and in the huddle, and it certainly seemed they folded up their tents and went home after the first interception and blocked punt.
As much as it pains me to say this, it was pretty clear that the Gamecock defensive intensity after the early turnovers was nowhere near Clemson's.
It's natural to point the finger at the blocked punt and the four interceptions as being too much of an obstacle to overcome, and indeed those things had their impact. The fact of the matter though is that defenses are going to be put in tough positions, and one could certainly say that some of the interceptions were really no more than short punts. Ultimately, in my opinion, the defense took a major blow to their confidence in the loss against Florida and never really recovered.
The good news is that there is time to regroup and refocus for a standout bowl performance, which would bring about a successful conclusion to the season. The most important play for a defensive player is always the next one, and if this unit can come together and do its part in securing a bowl victory and an 8-5 overall record, I'll take it.
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