Gamecock defense to have new look in bowl
South Carolina will be looking to even its all-time record against the Big Ten when it plays Iowa. The Gamecocks are 4-5 against Big Ten teams, including a 1-0 record against former Big Ten member Chicago. Carolina will be playing Iowa for the first time, but some of the program's biggest wins have come over Big Ten teams, especially in Tampa. The Gamecocks had a landmark win at Michigan in 1980, and had back-to-back Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State in 2001-2002, the latter being the Buckeyes' last loss before winning a National Championship the following season.
Individually, Steve Spurrier also has a somewhat mixed track record against the Big Ten. He beat Northwestern three times while at Duke, but is 1-1 since then. Both games were in the Citrus Bowl while at Florida.
"Big Ten football is very good," he recalled. "We had, in the Citrus Bowl, Michigan State and Penn State. Michigan State beat us down there 37-34 in 99. Plaxico Burress had a big game for them. They held on and kicked a field goal right at the end to win. We beat Penn State one year [21-6 following the 1997 season], but we were very fortunate they had two guys declared ineligible [running back Curtis Enis and wide receiver Joe Jurivicius, first and second round NFL draft picks, respectively]."
A pair of players were not among those who practiced. One of those was defensive back Akeem Auguste. Auguste injured his hamstring late in the season, and has yet to be cleared to return. As of Thursday, it is unknown whether he will be available for the Outback Bowl.
"He's still got the bad hamstring," said Spurrier. "He didn't practice today. Akeem's gimping around. We wish he would get healthy."
The other absent player was defensive back Jamire Williams. A redshirt freshman, Williams has decided to transfer to Alabama State.
"He thinks he's got a chance to play more there, and he probably does," Spurrier said. "It's probably a good idea on his part."
Now that most of the nation's coaching vacancies have been filled, Spurrier does not have to fend off daily questions about whether he is taking the open "Fill-in-the-blank" job. This year, the speculation has spread to include defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, whose name has come up in relation to the Mississippi State and Army openings. Spurrier said the coaches talk to the players about the rumors, but there is only so much they can say.
"Hopefully they know anybody can start a rumor these days and put it on the internet. Hopefully they will listen to us, and hopefully what we tell them is the truth. That's all we can do about that," he said. "I think it's complimentary that a lot of people think they would want to hire me. But as I've said many times, this is my last stop. Our goal is still to win an SEC [championship]."
Johnson elects to switch to 4-3 scheme for bowl
Ellis Johnson coached the Gamecocks to a top ten defense for most of the season. However, a late season swoon against Florida and Clemson dropped Carolina in the rankings, and now they have to prepare for the nation's best running back, Iowa's Shonn Green. Making matters more difficult, the Gamecocks will be without leading tackler Emanuel Cook, who is academically ineligible. Before he was even asked about Cook, Johnson made it clear he had nothing to say about his former starting strong safety.
"I don't have any comment about it," he said. "That's above my pay."
In Cook's absence, Johnson has elected to go with a new scheme. Instead of employing the 4-2-5 scheme used all season, with Darian Stewart playing the hybrid Spur position, Johnson will go with a more traditional 4-3-4 scheme. Against Iowa, Stewart will slide back to take over at strong safety, and linebacker Marvin Sapp will be in the starting lineup beside Jasper Brinkley and Eric Norwood.
"We're just going to play a 4-3 scheme and go on with it," Johnson said. "That will probably be good for Iowa because they're so big and physical."
Even though it is a change in scheme, the actual adjustment required of players should be minimal. Sapp played a significant number of snaps this season, and was one of the Gamecocks better defenders, despite playing in a reserve role. Furthermore, Johnson and most of the players ran the 4-3 last spring.
"It's not different other than the fact that we have to change a few adjustments to motions and shifts," he said. "It's really what we were doing in the spring so we have to kind of revive that and get guys back on target. With bowl preparation you've got about 15 days so it shouldn't be a problem."
If the Gamecocks and Hawkeyes were playing during the regular season, Johnson confessed he would not be making such a change. Even though the switch to a 4-3 seems to be ideal, he would have worked within the 4-2 to stop Shonn Green.
"I don't think we'd tinker with our defense a whole bunch if we had just three days of preparation," he said. "In this situation it's not that big of a problem."
Helping Johnson make the transition is Iowa. The Hawkeyes' philosophy is simple. Everything starts up front, where Iowa tries to win by being more physical than their opponents. Even Iowa's passing game is physical.
"The big thing about Iowa is they just pound you," said Johnson. "Being a big strong physical team like them, this is not a bad time to be going into that scheme. It's just a depth problem for us. You're getting into bare bones back there."
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