Defense steps up in second scrimmage

The South Carolina defense rose to the occasion Friday afternoon as they held the offense to limited numbers in the team's second scrimmage of spring practice. The unit combined for two interceptions and at least three sacks on the day, giving senior defensive lineman Nathan Pepper something to smile about. For more details, continue reading below.

As South Carolina headed into Williams-Brice Stadium for their second scrimmage of the spring, cloudy skies and the chance of rain filled the air. It was anything but a picture perfect day. Unless of course you happened to be the Gamecock defense.

After giving up five scoring drives in the first scrimmage of the spring last week, the defense dominated the offense on Friday, allowing just two touchdowns in the 64-play session. It was that performance that had senior Nathan Pepper walking off the field with grin.

"It felt good for the defense to come out and get some stops because that last scrimmage, man, that was an offensive scrimmage. It was like we were doing an offensive walk-through for them," Pepper said. "But it felt to good to come out and get some good hits in for our defense."

Pepper, along with linebacker Rodney Paulk and defensive end Clifton Geathers, combined to sack the USC quarterbacks three times officially and might have had more stops than that if some plays had been blown dead.

Defensive pressure limited three Carolina passers to combining for an 8-for-24, 150-yard day that also included two interceptions by Addison Williams and Cedric Snead.

The team also shutdown starting quarterback Stephen Garcia who completed just three passes with an interception and rushed seven times for -40 yards. The only bright spots of the day for the offense came as Tori Gurley caught three passes for 123 yards and two scores while running back Jarvis Giles carried the ball 12 times for 80 yards.

Aside from that, it was outing that belonged to the defense.

"It was a good scrimmage for the defense," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "The defensive guys seemed to be flying around, playing well. The offensive struggled – the O-line struggled, the quarterbacks struggled, the receivers struggled. We had a few little runs here and there, but not many."

The performance was one Pepper was excited to see as the defense continues to fill holes left by losses from last season. In all, 12 lettermen and five starters left the Gamecocks due to either graduation or early departure. The depth chart has continued to take hits this spring as defensive lineman Ladi Ajiboye and cornerback C.C. Whitlock were suspended indefinitely by Spurrier.

That loss of players has thrust numerous underclassmen, including some true freshman, into contention for starting roles when the first game rolls around this fall. However, Pepper is confident that the team will be prepared for the task of filling those vacancies.

"That's the way it is every year though because we know we've got guys that come out, and we always feel like we've got to fill the holes. No matter who you are, there's always spots to be open and spots to be filled on defense," Pepper said. "I just think it's a lot for guys to do to step up this year because of the amount of guys we had leave."

With all the new players battling for time, Pepper has had to step into a more vocal leadership role on the team. Though he's comfortable with being counted on for such a position, Pepper says it's a different feeling being the guy other players are turning to for guidance.

"I'm probably one of the oldest guys on the team now. It's crazy that I'm in this situation now because when I came in I just remember being on the team and seeing the older guys," Pepper said. "And now, I'm one of the oldest guys out here now. I do kind of feel like the daddy of the team or something like that."

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