No. 7 South Carolina’s defense leading way again

One of South Carolina’s biggest questions coming into the season

was whether the Gamecocks’ new defensive coordinator could keep the

unit among the nation’s elite. So far, Lorenzo Ward has been able

to do it.

No. 7 South Carolina hasn’t allowed a team to score a touchdown

in the red zone and is ranked seventh in the nation, allowing 10

points a game.

Ward had plenty of talent left over from last season’s defense

under Ellis Johnson that was ranked third in the nation, allowing

just 268 yards a game. Ward, who took over when Johnson became

coach at Southern Miss, has his defense giving up 316 yards a

contest so far in 2012, but it also has made more big plays,

collecting 14 sacks and forcing seven turnovers.

”We want to be able to create plays for our offense, whether

that’s causing a turnover or putting them in great field

position,” Ward said after South Carolina’s 49-6 win over UAB on

Saturday night.

South Carolina’s stout defense has taken a load off of head

coach Steve Spurrier, who has plenty to worry about on the

offensive side of the ball. Starting quarterback Connor Shaw has

been knocked out of two of three games with a hairline fracture on

his throwing shoulder. Spurrier said the team will have to wait and

see if Shaw can start next Saturday against Missouri, or if backup

Dylan Thompson will have to take snaps again.

”This is not a surgery type injury,” Spurrier said of Shaw’s

shoulder. ”It’s a small, little fracture, they call it, or like a

bone bruise of some nature, and it’s just painful. It’s not going

to get worse, they say.”

Spurrier is also worried about his offensive line, even though

his team is running for 172 yards a game.

”We’re always looking at it. We’ve got maybe two to three guys

that we know are going to start, but there’s maybe a couple in

there we need to look and see if someone can do better,” Spurrier

said.

The Head Ball Coach these days doesn’t mind leaning on his

defense when he needs to.

”That’s sort of what we expect from our guys,” Spurrier said.

”We think we should be that kind of defense most of the

time.”

Ward’s more aggressive approach is most evident when teams start

facing obvious passing situations. That’s when Ward sends in his

rabbit package, putting four defensive ends on the line. They

usually cause havoc in the backfield, with sophomore Jadeveon

Clowney leading the charge,

”It’s pretty fun. You’re in go mode and you’re after the

quarterback. And that’s one of the things I like to do, make sacks

on the quarterback,” said Clowney, who had two sacks and two

additional tackles for loss against UAB.

The rabbit package also impressed UAB coach Garrick McGee on

Saturday night.

””I think there defensive front is one of the top defensive

fronts in the country,” McGee said. ”I think at some point in the

game they are going to put pressure on any quarterback in the

country.”

The pressure then allows the Gamecocks secondary to make plays,

too. Cornerback Jimmy Legree had a 34-yard interception return for

a touchdown against East Carolina, and free safety D.J. Swearinger

returned a fumble 65 yards for a TD against the Blazers.

Perhaps the proudest accomplishment for South Carolina’s defense

is no one has scored a touchdown after getting inside the 20

against them. Vanderbilt’s only touchdown came on a 78 yard pass,

East Carolina’s lone TD was a 34-yard pass and UAB never got in the

end zone at all. The Gamecocks are one of four Football Bowl

Division teams that haven’t allowed a red zone touchdown this

season.

”We want to protect our home. When we get in the red zone, we

want to try to raise our level of play,” Ward said. ”If we can’t

keep people out of the end zone, we don’t have a chance to lose a

lot of football games.”

When Ward watches film, he expects to see every player’s helmet

on the screen if the ball is moving forward when the offensive

player is tackled. The players also responded to his more

aggressive style. During drills where balls are fired at them to

practice interceptions, anyone who drops a pick has to do 15

push-ups, Swearinger said.

”We are enjoying the way he is calling the defense,”

Swearinger said. ”It gives us a little edge on defense when we

know we are going to have fun out there.”