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South Carolina Gamecocks Defensive Preview

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Will “Smashy Smash” Muschamp doesn’t have the fully weaponized defense he desires, but does have them functional in one devastating area

NCAA Football: Alabama at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

As a reminder, Will Muschamp is refusing to release a depth chart for this week’s game. So I’ve gone through older depth charts and stat sheets to figure out who is being the most productive -> who’s probably seeing the field the most -> relative tier ranking of the players at a given position. How fun! Thanks, Will! What a fun exercise! Here we go...

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Javon Kinlaw
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive End

Aaron Sterling – JR: 5 tackles/2 TFLs/1 sack/2.5 run stuffs/1 PBU

Kingsley Enagbare – SO: 2.5 tackles/1 TFL/1 run stuff

Defensive Tackle

Javon Kinlaw – SR: 7 tackles/3 TFLs/3 sacks/3 run stuffs

Zacch Pickens – FR: 4.5 tackles/1 run stuff

Kobe Smith – FR: 3.5 tackles

The matchup: Line yards vs. run stuffs

I want to be transparent with you all: Looking at the South Carolina depth chart and the production from these guys, I feel like the Tigers are walking into a trap. Missouri’s offensive line is 33rd in getting Tiger running backs 5-yards; Cocky’s d-line is 83rd. Missouri’s line has a sack rate of about 4% on both standard downs and passing downs; Cocky’s d-line is only getting sacks at 6% and 7%, respectively. Like... I’ve just been trained to be afraid of Will Muschamp’s defensive lines and... I’m not. And I feel like that means we’re going to be bushwhacked anyway. My own paranoia aside, if both teams perform as they have performed three-games in, the Missouri o-line has an advantage over the South Carolina d-line and that’s a good start to controlling this game.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina
D.J. Wonnum (editor’s note: stop wearing jerseys that say Carolina— Carolina is Chapel Hill! )
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

BUCK

D.J. Wonnum – SR: 8.5 tackles/3 TFLs/4 run stuffs

Daniel Fennell – SR: 2 tackles/1 TFL/1 run stuff

Strongside Linebacker

Sherrod Greene – JR: 3.5 tackles/1 TFL

Jahmar Brown – FR: x

Middle Linebacker

Ernest Jones – SO: 16 tackles/2 TFLs/2.5 run stuffs/2 PBUs

Rosendo Louis, Jr. – SO: 2 tackles/1 TFL/1 run stuff/1 PBU

Weakside Linebacker

T.J. Brunson – SR: 12 tackles/0.5 TFLs

Damani Staley – JR: 1.5 tackles/1 TFL/1 run stuff

The matchup: Good explosions vs. bad explosions

Muschamp teams feature the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker/pass rusher, the “BUCK” position, that tends to create the most havoc amongst the defenders. This year’s candidate, D.J. Wonnum, has three tackles for loss and four run stuffs over three games while middle linebacker Ernest Jones has 2.5 run stuffs and 2 passes broken up. The rest of the linebacking corps hasn’t been that active, and even when they blitz, they’re only hitting home about 23% of the time (42nd). Again... doesn’t it feel like that shouldn’t be the case? Don’t you get a creeping feeling that they’ll finally act like a Muschamp-defense against Missouri? Regardless, Cocky has been prone to explosive plays, ranking 109th on standard downs and one-hundred and twenty-ninth (!!!) on passing downs. We’ll talk passing downs in more detail in the next matchup, but it looks like there are some prime opportunities for some big plays this week.

NCAA Football: Alabama at South Carolina
Jaycee Horn, close talker
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback

Jaycee Horn – SO: 6 tackles/2 TFLs/1 sack/2 run stuffs/3 PBUs/2 FFs

John Dixon – FR: 2.5 tackles/1 TFL/1 run stuff/1 INT

Free Safety

Jamyest Williams – JR: 10.5 tackles

J.T. Ibe – SR: 9 tackles/0.5 TFLs/1 PBU

Strong Safety

R.J. Roderick – SO: 12.5 tackles/1 TFL/1 sack/1.5 run stuffs/1 INT

Jammie Robinson – FR: 6 tackles/1 PBU

Cornerback

Israel Mukuamu – SO: 12.5 tackles/0.5 run stuffs/1 PBU/1 INT

Cam Smith – FR: 5 tackles

The matchup: staying on schedule vs. passing downs

And here’s where Cocky shines: passing downs. 21st in limiting successful plays, 29th in stopping efficiency plays, 33rd in shutting down line yards, 23rd in defending third-and-long. Essentially, if you fall into a passing down (2nd/3rd and 5+ yards), you have a small chance of keeping the drive going. That small chance, by the way? It’s our friend, the explosive play! While being dynamite in passing downs, South Carolina does have an annoying habit of giving up HUGE plays (129th in passing downs explosiveness). The South Carolina safeties have been incredibly havoc-inducing — both in run support and defending the pass — but there is a chance that if they miss their mark then there’s nothing but wide open spaces for the rest of the field. That’s obviously a very stressful way for an offense to make a living, so you want to see the Tigers stay ahead of the chains and hope for a big play on third down, otherwise it’ll be a frustrating slug-fest.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina
Parker White
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker

Parker White – JR: 6-7 FGs (85.7%)/9-9 PATs (100%)

Punter

Joseph Charlton – SR: 7 punts/43.9 avg/2 fair catches/3 downed inside the 20

Kick Returner

Shi Smith – JR: 7 returns/23.1 avg

Punt Returner

Bryan Edwards – SR: 3 returns/22 avg/1 fair catch

The matchup: good returns vs. bad returns

Parker White has been nearly automatic through 3 weeks and Joseph Charlton has been a solid punter as well, but the Carolina punt defense team is giving up 12 yards per return, 42nd in the country. I’ve rambled on enough about the importance of gaining at least 10 yards per punt, and this week would be a solid chance to put that into play. That goes doubly, so with Shi Smith returning kicks and Bryan Edwards returning punts, the “hidden yardage” that the return team gains can help flip the field. While neither dude is super consistent, they’re still exceeding what I’d deem the “minimum expectation” amounts of yards. Watch our punt defense unit: if Edwards is busting 20-yarders at a time, the Missouri defense will consistently be put in bad positions.