Gamecock Defense Sets Tone For Season

The South Carolina Gamecocks kicked off the 2009 football season with a 7-3 victory over the NC State Wolfpack. The victory, the tenth straight season opener that the Gamecocks have won, wasn't a thing of beauty, but a win is a win. What was beautiful though, was a dominant defensive performance by the Gamecock defense, orchestrated by Coach Ellis Johnson.

All of the hype going into the game centered on the reigning ACC offensive player of the year Russell Wilson and the fact that the Gamecocks were going to have to deal with him for the entire game this year. Most outside of Gamecock Nation believed that NC State was the superior and rising team because of the way the Wolfpack closed out last season. Well, someone forgot to tell the Gamecocks that NC State was supposed to be the dominant team.

When all was said and done, the Gamecock defense held the Wolfpack to just 133 total yards of offense and 11 first downs. This on the heels of a year long publicity campaign by the Wolfpack fans and players that this year would be different and that there was no way the Gamecock defense would hold them to 138 total yards and 10 first downs like they did in Columbia last year. They were right. The Gamecocks were even more dominant.

The Gamecocks also had a number of young stars emerge in the victory over the Pack. A young Devin Taylor burst onto the scene at defensive end last night as he filled in for a suspended Clifton Geathers. Taylor made his presence felt from the very beginning by forcing a fumble, blocking a punt, sacking Wilson, and causing havoc for the NC State offense all night long.

Tori Gurley, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, showed he has a lot of promise. He displayed an exciting blend of athleticism and heart. His fiery on the field temperament was certainly a motivator for his offensive teammates.

Jarvis Giles, the young running back phenom, also had his moments out of the backfield, highlighted by a 22-yard scamper in the second half.

Safety Devonte Holloman had a terrific pass break-up last night and played above his freshman classification. You can't forget about Stephon Gilmore when talking about young guys that impressed. Gilmore had a very solid night on defense, and when challenged at the end of the game he rose to the occasion and made the play.

The difference in overall talent and speed between the SEC and ACC was clearly evident again last night. The Wolfpack, a favorite to win their division of the ACC this year, could not match the Gamecocks' speed and talent on either side of the ball. It was impressive watching the Gamecock defensive ends and linebackers tracking Wilson down over and over again. The Gamecocks played with speed and decisiveness, while the Wolfpack looked lost and confused for most of the night.

The score for Thursday night's contest will forever be recorded as a 7-3 victory for the Gamecocks, but those who watched the game will know that the Gamecocks had plenty of opportunities to make the victory more decisive on the scoreboard.

The Gamecocks had a long touchdown pass to Tori Gurley called back on an offensive pass interference penalty. USC's field goal unit had a botched snap that negated easy points and a chip shot field goal that was pulled wide left. The Gamecocks also had multiple opportunities to score while in Wolfpack territory, but always seemed to have one play that halted their momentum and ended any opportunity to score.

What can be taken from that, and what most certainly will, is that the Gamecocks put themselves in a position to be successful time and time again. The elimination of a few mental mistakes here and there, combined with more fundamental execution would have put the game away for the Gamecocks a lot sooner than it was secured last night.

In the Gamecocks' favor, is the fact that all those things are correctable. Experience was gained for a young team last night, and most importantly a will and a determination to win was displayed. That display of determination and effort is one thing that Gamecock football has lacked for many years. In fact the last time the Gamecocks won a game when scoring less than 10 points was all the way back in 1971 against Memphis State. Having a team this young and talented display such a critical attribute for winning consistently bodes very well for the future of Gamecock football.

There is a reason for the old adage that "defense wins championships". The reason? It's true. The Gamecocks made a resounding defensive statement last night for the entire nation to see, and if the Gamecocks get some kinks worked out on the offensive side of the ball, then watch out. The Gamecocks don't have a lot of believers around the country right now, but with a very solid defense, an offense that has plenty of potential, and that all important will to win, the Gamecocks could have plenty of believers by year's end.

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