2010 South Carolina Preview – Defense
South Carolina DE Cliff Matthews
South Carolina DE Cliff Matthews
Posted Jul 29, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - South Carolina Gamecock Defense

South Carolina Gamecocks

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense has been terrific over the past few years, and this year's version could be the best yet under Steve Spurrier. After finishing in the top 15 in the nation in total defense in each of the last two years, it'll be a shock if it's not three in a row. There are four huge losses in LB Eric Norwood, CB Darian Stewart, DT Nathan Pepper and DE Clifton Geathers, but everyone else is back led by a whale of a secondary that could be the best in the SEC. Corners Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver are destined for all-star status, while Akeem Auguste should shine at safety. The linebacking corps is small, but extremely quick, while end Cliff Matthews leads a good line that should among the most athletic in the conference.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Shaq Wilson, 85
Sacks: Cliff Mathews, 7
Interceptions: Four with 1

Star of the defense: Senior DE Cliff Matthews
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Devin Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS DeVonte Holloman
Best pro prospect: Sophomore CB Stephon Gilmore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Matthews, 2) Gilmore, 3) CB Chris Culliver
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker Size, No. 2 Pass Rusher To Help Cliff Matthews

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Even with some big losses, the line should be solid as long as Cliff Matthews is healthy. The 6-4, 260-pound Second-Team All-SEC performer came up with 47 tackles, seven sacks, and ten tackles for loss, and now the former linebacker will need to be even more of a pass rushing star. Extremely quick and one of the team's hardest working players, he has a great motor and will find his way into the backfield on a regular basis. The non-stop motor gets him to the quarterback on sheer want to.

Looking to clog up the middle again will be senior Ladi Ajiboye, a long-time factor on the inside of the line who made 45 tackles last year. The 6-2, 278-pounder isn't going to get into the backfield, failing to generate a sack after coming up with 4.5 in his first two years, but he'll hold up well against the run. With the academic issues of early last year well in the past, he'll use his quickness and experience to be one of the unsung cogs on a good defense.

Stepping into a starting tackle job will be Travian Robertson, a 6-5, 298-pound junior who's one of the team's strongest linemen. He only played in four games before tearing his ACL, but while he might lose some of his power he should be a rock against the run. Originally considered an end, he'll move around where needed depending on the alignment.

Trying to benefit from all the attention paid to Cliff Matthews on the other side is sophomore Devin Taylor, a 6-8, 244-pound power forward who happens to be a defensive end. With a great first step and big-time upside, the spotlight will be on to see if he can be the team's new pass-rushing star. He made two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss and 28 tackles, and now that he's getting a full-time job, he should explode.

Projected Top Reserves Junior Melvin Ingram will see a bigger role as Travian Robertson tries to get past his knee injury. The 6-2, 278-pounder will rotate in at both tackle spots after making 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. While he hasn't shown enough to be a regular starter, he's a vital role player who overcame a foot problem and should grow into the job as a quick run stopper.

A little used reserve last year, sophomore Kenny Davis is a promising 6-3, 285-pounder who made one tackle in his limited action and now will see time at both tackle spots. While he has the raw tools to become a great part of the rotation, he has to get the motor running at full-tilt to become an interior pass rusher. He could quickly find a niche with a few big plays early on.

6-4, 255-pound sophomore Aldrick Fordham saw a little bit of time as a true freshman and made four tackles. Very smart and very active, he'll combine with Devin Taylor as a pass rusher and will be a key special teamer.

Eventually, redshirt freshman Chaz Sutton will be a factor. The top-ranked recruit from last year has a speed rusher and is a pure pass rusher with limitless upside. At 6-3 and 249 pounds he has decent size and a great burst off the ball, but he has to stay healthy after seeing a little bit of time early last year and injuring his hamstring. Very smart and very good, he'll be a factor sooner than later.

Watch Out For … Taylor. The Gamecocks generated pressure from the linebacking corps (Eric Norwood) and getting a big year from Matthews. Now it'll be up to Taylor, Fordham, or Sutton to be a factor in the backfield. Taylor has the best chance of being the main man early on.
Strength: Run defense. This isn't a huge line with monster tackles, but everyone is active enough to swarm around the ball to keep most ground games in check. As long as Robertson and Ajiboye are healthy inside, the Gamecocks will be tough to run through.
Weakness: Health. There have been a variety of bangs, bruises and tears among the returning linemen, and while the production will be fantastic if everyone is healthy, there's no way the coaching staff can count on Matthews not having problems with his shoulder or Robertson being 100% from his knee injury.
Outlook: This is a young, talented line with two great seniors in Matthews and Ajiboye to mix in with a slew of good prospects. More of a pass rush is a must from someone other than Matthews, and the interior has to do a bit more to get into the backfield on a regular basis. This won't be the best line in the SEC, but it'll do more than hold its own.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Gone is Eric Norwood, who made 81 tackles, seven sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss, and in steps Shaq Wilson, a 5-10, 226-pound junior who spend last year in the middle and will move to the weakside. He's not all that big, but he's tough and he makes every stop that comes his way leading the team with 85 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception. With defensive back-like speed, he'll be sent into the backfield and will be more of a disruptive force.

Senior Rodney Paulk is a talented veteran who hasn't had much in the way of luck over the last few years. At 6-0 and 226 pounds he's not all that big, but he's active when he's on the field. An active tackler who made 64 tackles as a breakout freshman, he suffered a left knee injury two years ago and was hit by a torn ACL in his right knee last year. Very smart and very hard-working as he tries to get back into the mix, the hope is that he'll return and be a steady starter in the middle. Unfortunately, the team can't count on him after what happened the last few years.

Back at his starting role at the Spur, the hybrid of linebacker and safety, is junior Antonio Allen after he made 35 tackles last year. He needs to make something happen when the ball is in the air after coming up with just two broken up passes, but the hope is that he'll take his experience and use it to be more disruptive. Originally a strong safety, he's a great hitter with excellent speed and athleticism, but at 6-1 and 201 pounds he has to hold up against the power running teams.

Projected Top Reserves 6-1, 220-pound senior Josh Dickerson was a top JUCO transfer who was expected to be an instant impact playmaker, and he was with 36 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Considering Rodney Paulk's knee problems, Dickerson is expected to play a big role in the rotation on the inside.

Considering Antonio Allen is only 201 pounds, 225-pound sophomore Damario Jeffery is a bigger option at the Spur. He made 15 tackles as a true freshman and has burst to become a dangerous all-around playmaker, but he's not tough enough against the run yet and will likely be used in more passing situations.

JUCO transfer Josh Straughter isn't all that big at 6-0 and 210 pounds, but he's tough making 16 tackles last season on the weakside. The senior was fantastic on special teams and got three defensive starts under his belt with five tackles against Florida Atlantic, and now he'll play a larger role in the rotation. He's quick, has nice range, and will be used in a variety of ways.

Watch Out For … Wilson on the weakside. The team's top tackler of last year should be a better fit on the outside where he'll be able to do more in space. He might not be Eric Norwood as a pass rusher, he should be a dangerous, disruptive force.
Strength: Quickness. This isn't a big corps, but it's extremely quick and extremely athletic. While this group could be flattened by the tougher running games, it'll swarm around the ball against the run.
Weakness: Size. Wilson and Paulk are 225 pounds and they're the big boys in the equation. Eric Norwood was a big body who packed some thump against the ground game, but this linebacking corps is all athletes and no girth.
Outlook: Norwood was overrated. He had a monster game against Ole Miss that everyone saw and got a ton of early love after making six sacks in the first four games, and then he disappeared as a pass rusher with just one sack over the final nine outings. He was good against the run and made ten tackles against Connecticut, but the point is that the Gamecocks were able to adjust when he wasn't dominating. This year's linebacking corps could use Norwood's size, but it should be just fine with more depth and more options to play around with than last year. The production will be better than the individual talent.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: The secondary should be fantastic if the one lost starters, safety Darian Stewart, can be quickly replaced. Sophomore DeVonte Holloman might not be as quick as Stewart, but he's a lot bigger and has the potential to become a special strong safety. The 6-3, 226-pounder packs a wallop and is smart enough to grow into a quarterback-of-the-secondary type of role. He made 30 tackles as a reserve with an interception (which was one more than Stewart) as a true freshman, and now the sky's the limit.

Senior Chris Culliver has grown from a decent wide receiver prospect to a tremendous defensive back finishing third on the team with 62 tackles with nine broken up passes and two sacks. The 6-1, 197-pounder was terrific at free safety last year but will now move to corner to use his size, speed, and experience to potentially be a shut-down playmaker. The Second-Team All-SEC performer has to overcome a shoulder injury, but he's a special player and a phenomenal kickoff returner who should shine with the position change.

With Culliver moving to corner, junior Akeem Auguste will take over at free safety after spending most of his time at corner. The 5-10, 186-pounder has been a factor since his true freshman season being used in a variety of ways. He has yet to make his first interception, but he has made 56 stops in his first two years with seven broken up passes. He's a physical defender who doesn't get pushed around, and now he has to be even more of a playmaker when the ball is in the air.

6-1, 188-pound sophomore Stephon Gilmore has seen time as a Wildcat formation quarterback and is one of the team's best all-around athletes, but now he'll make a bigger name for himself as purely a corner. One of the best covermen in the SEC, and a top punt returner, Gilmore made 56 tackles, three sacks, and an interception with eight broken up passes. South Carolina's Mr. Football was an offensive superstar in high school and is still getting the subtle nuances of being a defender, but it's all there to be special as his career goes on. Smart, fast, and with nice size, he's just scratching the surface on what might be a long career that continues on Sundays.

Projected Top Reserves Sophomore D.J. Swearinger spent last year working at times as a reserve corner, but now he'll be a key part of the safety rotation. Extremely physical, the 5-11, 201-pound hitter should be an intimidating force at free safety once he figures out what he's doing. While he didn't do much against the pass, he came up with 19 tackles in a strong first year.

The coaching staff will find time somewhere for Alonzo Winfield, a 6-0, 222-pound junior who's the team's biggest defensive back and has the potential to play at the Spur from time to time. He saw a little bit of action making 14 tackles with two broken up passes, and he'll once again be a key special teamer, but he'll also see plenty of action in the safety rotation.

Bringing more speed to the equation is junior Marty Markett, a 5-9, 168-pound junior who was an All-American on the track as a 100 and 200-meter sprinter and now is trying his hand at football. He walked on to the team and missed the season with a broken arm, but now he'll try to used his wheels as a corner and dime defender playing behind Stephon Gilmore.

C.C. Whitlock was a spot starter at corner getting the call five times and finishing with 16 tackles and three broken up passes while picking off a pass against Alabama. At 5-10 and 176 pounds he's not all that big, but he's physical and has a little experience and was a key player in the offseason working at Chris Culliver's corner spot.

Watch Out For … Three all-stars. Gilmore belongs in an NFL camp, Culliver will be a major playmaker, and Auguste should be a big-time stat producer at free safety. The Gamecock secondary should be special.
Strength: Veterans. What was seen as a possible nightmare last year after losing Captain Munnerlyn, Emmanuel Cook, and Stoney Woodson, but everyone turned out to be more than fine. The experience gained means the Gamecocks are loaded now with plenty of great options to play around with.
Weakness: Production against top-flight passers … maybe. It's nitpicking time for a secondary that might be the best in the SEC. While facing Tim Tebow, Jevan Snead, and Russell Wilson might sound scary, it's not like the Florida, Ole Miss, and NC State passing games, respectively, were humming at the highest level last year. Ryan Mallett of Arkansas was able to bomb away for 329 yards on a 23-of-27 day, and he was the best NFL-caliber passer the Gamecocks dealt with. Again, nitpicking.
Outlook: The secondary had to undergo some major changes and came up with a tremendous year allowing just 11 touchdown passes and no more than two in any one game. Three fantastic starters return to a pass defense that was second in the SEC and eighth in the nation and was 26th in pass efficiency defense, and it should be terrific once again with speed, skill, and NFL-caliber prospects.
Unit Rating: 9

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The pressure was on for Spencer Lanning to step up and fill in for one of the best kickers in the SEC, Ryan Succop, and the senior came through with a tremendous season nailing 17-of-20 field goals and averaged 41.9 yards per punt. He didn't show off a monster leg, but he hit everything inside of 40 yards after a 27-yard miss against NC State in the opener, and he connected on five field goals in the loss to Georgia. His range tops out at around 45 yards, but he connected on a 47-yarder against Tennessee. The punter for the last two years, he put 15 inside the 20 in 2009 and forced 18 fair catches.

Corner Chris Culliver is the school's all-time leading kickoff returner with 2,215 career yards, but he averaged a pedestrian 22.5 yards per try last year. Fellow corner Stephon Gilmore has tremendous upside as a punt returner averaging 10.1 yards per try last season.

Watch Out For … Joey Scribner-Howard . The junior has a cannon for a leg, and while he won't replace Lanning as the regular placekicker, he'll likely get a few shots to hit a bomb from 50 yards or more. He'll also handle kickoffs.
Strength: Steady veterans. The special teams might not be amazing, but Lanning is more than fine and Culliver and Gilmore are solid return men overdue to be spectacular.
Weakness: The coverage teams. They've been miserable for years under Steve Spurrier. The kickoff coverage team allowed 24.4 yards per try and three touchdowns. Considering the leg on Scribner-Howard, that's inexcusable. The punt coverage team allowed 13 yards per try.
Outlook: The special teams shouldn't be a liability outside of the kickoff coverage. It's not going to be a special group of specialists, but the Gamecocks will be decent enough to not lose games because of them.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2010 South Carolina Preview | 2010 South Carolina Offense
- 2010 South Carolina Defense | 2010 South Carolina Depth Chart
- South Carolina Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006