The defensive drama found at South Carolina this week might be rivaled only by that at Texas, where coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on Sunday.
That’s to be expected when a supposedly solid unit from an allegedly top-10 team falls on its face in a critical divisional game, as the Gamecocks defense did in a 41-30 loss at Georgia.
Star DE Jadeveon Clowney wants a new, more heavily involved role. Coaches fought on the sideline. Even The Ol’ Ball Coach got involved in postgame when Steve Spurrier took shots at defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. Spurrier even said he planned to “give… some suggestions” about the defense this week.
Clowney has borne the brunt of the national criticism (and you can expect to read more about that here this week). Argue for or against the public mocking of Clowney all you want, but it’s not the superstar junior’s job to coordinate the defense and put the team in the correct alignments to make plays. His job is to make plays – which he hasn’t done enough of through two games, leaving the freak athlete frustrated.
One can question Spurrier for publicly calling out his defensive coordinator in the aftermath of a loss that could cost the team a shot at the SEC Championship Game. However, Spurrier’s comments have merit.
“I look out there and I see all those either redshirt freshmen or second-year guys and I’m starting to wonder if we were expecting a little bit much out of all those guys,” Spurrier said Sunday. “But it is a freshmen-laden defense out there, and they’re going to take their lumps, I guess.
“But we’ve got to be creative. We’re going to change our defense a little bit. We’re not going to just stand there like we did today. I’ll give Coach Ward some suggestions.”
Ward’s cardinal sin, through two games, seems to be failing to prepare his inexperienced linebackers – some of the young guys to whom Spurrier refers – for important early games.
However, the issue extends deeper.
Both Georgia and North Carolina, which managed just 10 points against the Gamecocks, outmaneuvered Ward with their gameplans.
The two offenses showed their strategies early and often – run away from Clowney, throw short passes from the pocket and everything else rolling away from Clowney.
When Ward adjusts to that mentality, it will mark the first time he has obviously done so.
Here’s the thing: When teams openly show they will run almost exclusively to one side, a defense should adjust. Even with young, mistake-prone linebackers, positioning them to help on the side opposite field seemingly makes sense. At least if Clowney gets beat on his assignment, Ward should be able to sleep well knowing he put his superstar in position to make plays.
In basketball, if a right-hand-dominant guard has trouble going left, guess what opponents do. They dare him to go left.
Also, how about taking away the short passing game? Even if the defensive backs get beat on extended routes, Clowney at least gets a chance to do what he does best – haunt and hunt quarterbacks.
Instead, Ward has allowed his first two opponents to live by the same gameplans.
Georgia finished off South Carolina’s hopes of controlling the road to Atlanta with a drive that spanned the final 8 minutes, 28 seconds.
Unless Ward adapts, South Carolina’s lofty expectations will evaporate in the same way.