2012 South Carolina Preview - Defense
South Carolina DE Devin Taylor
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - South Carolina Gamecock Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Considering Steve Spurrier is known for his high-flying offenses, it has been a bit of a shocker that his calling card at South Carolina has been defense finishing third in the nation last season behind Alabama and LSU and 11th in scoring D. The secondary might not have faced too many passing games with a pulse, but it finished second in the nation and should be almost as strong despite the loss of CB Stephon Gilmore and two other starters. The defensive backfield will be helped by one of the nation's most aggressive and dangerous lines highlighted by the dominant end tandem of Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. The linebacking corps loses the team's No. 1 (Antonio Allen) and No. 3 (Rodney Paulk) tacklers, but it should be fantastic with a deep group of athletes to form a great rotation.
Tackles: D.J. Swearinger, 80
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney, 8
Interceptions: D.J. Swearinger, 3
Star of the defense: Sophomore DE Jadeveon Clowney
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Byron Jerideau
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Victor Hampton
Best pro prospect: Clowney
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Clowney, 2) DT Devin Taylor, 3) FS D.J. Swearinger
Strength of the defense: Ends, Pass Defense
Weakness of the defense: Sure-Thing Corners, Veteran Depth
It was one of the rare moments when one decision helped take a program to another level. South Carolina was going to be good no matter where sophomore Jadeveon Clowney decided to play, but it became a special moment for the Gamecocks when he chose to go to Columbia. The nation's No. 1 recruit of 2010 had all the pressure in the world of a can't-miss, sure-thing superstar prospect, and while he wasn't asked to change the world right away, he proved he could be a game-changer with 36 tackles with 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and five forced fumbles. At 6-6 and 256 he added about 20 pounds to his frame but is expected to be just as much of a speed rusher. All the tools are there to be unstoppable, and when he's on, he's special with huge plays against Georgia, Mississippi State and Florida that helped USC win tight games. With Devin Taylor on the other side, Clowney should flourish when he's not double teamed.
It was a big moment for the South Carolina defense when 6-8, 267-pound senior Devin Taylor chose to return for one more season. Very big, very tough and great at getting into the backfield, the veteran came up with 42 tackles with six sacks and eight tackles for loss. Built like a power forward, and just as athletic as one, he has a great first step and tremendous closing skills once he gets a bead on a quarterback. With his size he's tough to throw over and is tougher to run around. Always in the backfield and always disrupting things, he should be a terror once again working on the other side of Clowney.
Tough tackle Travian Robertson is gone from the interior, but sophomore Kelcy Quarles proved he could produce earning freshman All-America honors making 28 tackles with two tackles for loss. The 6-4, 286-pounder signed two years ago but wasn't eligible until last season, spending 2010 at Fort Union Military Academy. A big-time prospect with limitless upside, he's lightning quick and should be a tremendous interior pass rusher with a little more time.
Taking over for Robertson will be senior Byron Jerideau, a 6-1, 316-pound run plugger is a bowling ball of a force inside making seven tackles with 1.5 sacks. He might get into the backfield on a regular basis, but that won't be his job. He'll be backed up by J.T. Surratt, a 6-2, 295-pound quicker option who'll can fill in at either tackle spot. He's one of the team's most athletic interior linemen.
Moving from the inside to the outside will be 6-4, 269-pound senior Aldrick Fordham, one of the teams most versatile linemen getting six starts and finishing with nine tackles with a tackle for loss. He'll back up Clowney, while 6-5, 248-pound junior Chaz Sutton, one of the team's top recruits from a few years ago, will work behind Taylor with excellent raw speed and burst making 13 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss.
Watch Out For … Quarles. The ends are going to get all the attention and all of the limelight, but Quarles, if he plays up to his potential, could be every bit as strong a defender as Clowney and Taylor?
Strength: Pass rush. Some NFL teams would be more than happy to start the season with Clowney and Taylor. These two are relentless, and the scary part is that Clowney didn't know what he was doing last season.
Weakness: Proven depth. It's a little thin at all four spots with some decent prospects who haven't panned out and a few young players who haven't done anything yet. The starting four should be fantastic, but there might not be a great rotation early on.
Outlook: Ultra-talented and ultra-athletic, the Gamecocks won't have a problem getting into the backfield from all four spots. The run defense has to be a bit stronger, especially without Robertson, but big plays should make up for a few gouges now and then.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The linebacking corps might lose leading tackler Antonio Allen and No. 3 hitter Rodney Paulk, but it's still loaded starting with a great veteran in the middle. 5-11, 224-pound senior Shaq Wilson missed all of 2010 with a hamstring problem but came back to finish fourth on the team with 42 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. While he's still quick and still active, he has been banged up with a torn right ACL and a balky left knee, to go along with the hamstring problems, but he's a few years removed from his problems.
As good a Wilson might be, he'll have to battle for the job with senior Reginald Bowens moving over from the weakside after making 44 tackles with a pick in eight starts. At 6-3 and 254 pounds he's a bigger body for the middle and strong against the run, but like Wilson he has had injury problems in the past with shoulder and hamstring problems. Finally healthy, he started to show what he could do and now is expected to blow up with experience to go along with his size and his talent.
Working at the strongside spot, or the Spur in the Gamecock system, in place of Allen will be DeVonte Holloman, a huge-hitting 6-2, 241-pound veteran who made 69 tackles two years ago as a safety and came through with 51 stops with four tackles for loss and a pick as a key part of the rotation. Very active and very strong against the run, he should put up another 50+ tackles and could be used as a pass rusher from time to time.
6-4, 233-pound senior Demario Jeffery turned into a spot starter finishing with 14 tackles after making 35 stops two years ago. Able to play any of the three linebacker spots, he's fast, strong and experienced enough to be good on the weakside if he doesn't get pushed out of a spot by senior Quin Smith, who's more than capable of handling himself on the weakside if needed after making 49 tackles two years ago and 48 stops last season with six tackles for loss. The 6-1, 239-pounder is versatile and able to start without the defense losing a thing.
At 5-10 and 179 pounds, sophomore Sharrod Golightly is a defensive back who'll see time at the Spur as a faster option behind Holloman. Used like a nickel back at times and a strong safety, he can do a little bit of everything for the defensive back seven making seven tackles in his first season with a tackle for loss.
Watch Out For … the battle in the middle. Bowens appears ready to blow up after a great offseason, but Wilson isn't going to get shoved aside and has to be on the field. With both of them likely to move in the middle, the two creaky veterans should be able to stay fresh.
Strength: Depth. How do you lose two of the team's top three tackles and not only be fine, but possibly be better? The Gamecocks should be able to send wave after wave of players after offenses with a great mix of veterans and athletic young players.
Weakness: Allen and Paulk. Yeah, USC should be more than great because of its depth and with the emergence of Bowens doing more, but Allen and Paulk were excellent combining for 145 tackles with 13 tackles for loss with Allen making three picks with four forced fumbles. These two were difference-makers.
Outlook: The linebacking corps, even without two of last year's key stars, should be great. With the depth there are plenty of insurance policies if Wilson and/or Bowens get hurt again with lots of versatile defenders to play around with. If the line is as good as advertised and does its job, the linebackers should be free to roam and make lots and lots of big plays.
Unit Rating: 8
The pass defense was experienced and very, very talented last season, and it showed finishing third in the country against the pass. Only one starter returns, but he's a good one. Senior free safety D.J. Swearinger finished second on the team with 80 tackles with three picks and 1.5 tackles for loss after making 66 stops at strong safety two seasons ago. At 6-0 and 210 pounds with cornerback athleticism he has all the tools, and he's a great veteran leader, but he has to get back in the swing of things after missing the entire offseason with a foot injury.
Helping the cause with three key corners gone is the return of senior Akeem Auguste, a 5-9, 188-pound blazer who made 58 tackles two seasons ago but got knocked out for the year in the 2011 season opener with a foot injury. While he hasn't been a great playmaker when the ball is in the air – he's still looking for his first career interception – but his return should make a huge difference.
Stepping in on the other side is one of the team's best all-around athletes, 5-10, 197-pound sophomore Victor Hampton. Potentially the next big thing in the Gamecock secondary, he takes plenty of chances but has the recovery ability and the quickness to make up for most of his mistakes. He saw a little bit of time making 14 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes, but the talent and upside are there to be a lock-down defender.
5-11, 205-pound sophomore Brison Williams suffered a broken arm and missed the first part of last season, but he was able to come back and got his feet wet making 11 tackles. Ready to step in as the starting strong safety, he'll be tested early on and has to show he can be among the teams leading tacklers and one of the steadier defenders. He'll work in combination with 6-1, 185-pound sophomore Kadetrix Marcus, a decent prospect who got his feet wet in his true freshman season making just one tackle as a special teamer.
Junior Jimmy Legree can play just about anywhere in the secondary, but he'll end up working at corner behind Auguste after making eight tackles in a limited role. At 6-0 and 189 pounds he's a little bigger than Auguste with next-level athleticism. Also in the corner equation will be 6-0, 189-pound sophomore Cadarious Sanders, a special teamer so far making four tackles. He'll work behind Hampton to start, but he could end up as a nickel or dime defender.
Watch Out For … Hampton. The Gamecocks have plenty of speed and athleticism to burn, but Hampton has the wheels to go along with world of talent. He'll get burned from time to time, but once he becomes more consistent, look out.
Strength: Speed. There's no shortage of athleticism at all four spots with everyone able to run and able to swarm around the ball. This group should be able make up for mistakes by outrunning them.
Weakness: Experience. The Gamecocks are hardly starting from scratch, but the secondary is taking a hit with the loss of Stephon Gilmore and C.C. Whitlock. Auguste and Swearinger are trying to come back from injuries, and Hampton and Williams are green.
Outlook: USC might have finished third in the nation in pass defense, but other than Clemson it didn't face anyone who could throw outside of Arkansas, Georgia and East Carolina, and those three happened to be the only ones able to come up with more than 200 yards and combined to throw for ten of the 14 scoring passes allowed. Even so, this was a good secondary that should be more than fine despite all the key replacements. However, the stats once again will be better than the talent.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Gone is Jay Wooten, who came up with a decent year hitting 7-of-11 field goals. Front and center in the placekicking race is senior Adam Yates, a walk-on who has seen a little bit of time on kickoffs early in his career, but true freshman Nick St. Germain is expected to take over the job when he's ready. With a huge leg he should get on the field for a few deep shots, but he needs to prove he can be consistent.
The punting game was a disaster last year finishing 92nt in the nation netting 35 yards per try. Joey Scribner-Howard averaged just 38.9 yards per try and only put ten inside the 20. Now there will be a battle for the gig with sophomore Patrick Fish expected to finally take over after he was supposed to do it last year. If he can get it done, junior Mike Williamson will get every chance after transferring over from Columbia.
The kickoff return game wasn't great but it improved a wee bit after a mediocre 2010 averaging 21.84 yards per try. Bruce Ellington did his part averaging 23.1 yards per try, while corner Victor Hampton did an excellent job averaging 25.4 yards per pop. The punt return game was miserable two years ago and got more last season thanks to a 68-yard return for a score from Ace Sanders, who only averaged 9.3 yards per try.
Watch Out For … the placekicking job. Yates, Landon Ard and St. Germain will all fight it out, and considering four games last season were decided by three points or fewer, they have to come through.
Strength: Punt coverage. It wasn't exactly dominant, but it helped out a mediocre punting game by allowing just 7.3 yards per try. It's been one of the bigger positives on the lousy special teams over the last few years.
Weakness: Take your pick. The kicking game is a question mark, the punting game was among the worst in the country and the return game was average. More than anything else, the Gamecocks need to find a steady and reliable placekicker.
Outlook: Bad over the last few seasons, South Carolina has to find something that works. It's inexcusable for a team with this much speed to be so average on returns. The kicking and punting games are a huge, HUGE concern.
Unit Rating: 5
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