Mike DeBord knows what South Carolina co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke likes to do with his defenses. The two spent time together as assistants with the Chicago Bears from 2010-12 and DeBord sees vast similarities in the style of defense the Gamecocks run and the one Hoke helped establish in Chicago as the defensive backs coach.
"I see a very similar defense to what they played when he was there," DeBord said. "A lot of four-man front, a lot of Tampa 2 defense and then they'll mix it in with some Cover 1. They'll occasionally bring somebody, but really working on the fundamentals, trying to be a fundamentally sound defense. I think they are and they're playing with great effort. It's very similar to what they were doing there when he was an assistant."
South Carolina currently ranks as the No. 13 total defense in the SEC, allowing 430 yards a game on 567 plays. The Gamecocks struggle to defend the run, as teams are averaging 215 yards per game on the ground against them, but DeBord knows they'll be motivated after relinquishing a two-touchdown lead over Tennessee in the final minutes in an overtime loss.
"You don't really know going into it if we're going to get man coverage or Tampa 2," DeBord said. "Once we get in the game we'll get a feel for what they're trying to do. We'll do that as we go."
Tennessee has seen an influx of eight man boxes this season, known as the "Bear" or "46" defense, which puts six players along the line of scrimmage in an attempt to stuff the run. As the Vols continue to have success on the ground, they'll see more and more of this style of defense, as evidenced by Kentucky's multiple uses of it Saturday.
"They played Bear almost the whole game," DeBord said. "Running against Bear is hard, I mean it's really hard, and that's why they play it. They don't want you running the ball."
The Wildcats were able to limit Jalen Hurd's production the ground, as Hurd gained just 61 rushing yards on 18 carries. Despite Hurd's lack of explosive plays, the Vols were able to rush for 249 yards against a mostly eight-man box through six different rushers.
"We're right around the 250 mark facing that defense, and that's hard," DeBord said. "We've been facing that defense for the last three weeks. People jump in it, jump out of it because we're running the football with great effectiveness."
Running back Ralph David Abernathy IV wasn't with his normal running back group at practice Tuesday. Instead of dodging cones and blocking pads, Abernathy was running routes with the wide receivers. With injuries decimating a once-deep unit, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni brought Abernathy over from running back duty to make up for the attrition by trying him out with the wide receivers.
"We're down at numbers at wideout, so we're always teaching everyone all the positions," Azzanni said. "You've got to have a plan. You can't just go out there, 'Oh, I've got two guys hurt.' You can't call timeout. You've got to be able to go plug some people in. Those are all just contigency plans in case things happen and we always work different guys, especially with our numbers being down."
If Abernathy is forced into game action at wide receiver, however, Azzanni seemed confident in the ability of the redshirt senior Cincinnati transfer.
"He definitely has the skill set to be the slot," he said. "Does he see some times? I think it depends on a lot of factors: our lineup, what's happening in the game, if any guys go down. He's certainly willing. He'll do anything. He wants to get on the field. He's certainly capable. He's played in big time college football games. He knows what to expect. He's a guy that, depending on what happens, could see the field."