This unit is best known for starting defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, but unfortunately for opposing teams, it goes much deeper than that. Clowney is a future first-round draft pick that is as athletic as any front seven defender in the country. He can make plays in pursuit that most players can't, and his quickness makes him impossible to keep out of the backfield. Clowney does have a tendency to take a play off here and there, but his presence on the field forces defenses to game plan around him. Taylor has been a very productive and solid defensive end his entire career at South Carolina. At 6-foot-8, 267 pounds, he uses his length to rush the passer, defend against the run, and deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. Clowney has the better numbers of the two with 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss, and Taylor has had surprisingly low totals with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. The numbers, however, don't tell the entire story, as both are capable of making big plays at any point. The two star defensive ends are complimented well by three-technique Kelsey Quarles and one technique Byron Jerideau. Jerideau has an incredible first step, but plays a tad high at times. He uses his hands well, and is able to rush the passer better than most nose tackle types. Quarles has become a big time player in just his sophomore season. He does an excellent job of playing through blocks, and has the athleticism to penetrate, get flat, and run plays down. He can be blocked one-on-one, but it hasn't happened all that often in 2012. Also keep an eye on reserve defensive ends Aldrick Fordham and Chaz Sutton. Fordam looked explosive against Kentucky, and Sutton has been very disruptive against every team the Gamecocks have played this season.
Reginald Bowens and Shaq Wilson man the two true linebacker positions for South Carolina, and both senior leaders for the defense. The two rarely play with the wrong leverage, and both seem to know the scheme inside and out. Neither linebacker comes off the field much, and Wilson has proven to be one of the most disciplined and instinctive linebackers in the SEC during his time in Columbia. He is a tad small at 5-foot-11, 224 pounds, but he plays very well down hill. As long as no offensive lineman can work up to him, he is going to be around the football and will make the tackle most of the time. Bowen is the bigger of the two, and plays a physical brand of football. He plays well against the run down hill, but can sometimes take on blocks high. He does a good job of scraping outside, and tackles well in space for a linebacker with his size. The third linebacker is a hybrid between a linebacker and a safety that the Gamecocks call a "spur." Senior Devonte Holloman mans the "spur" position and does a great job doing what defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward asks of him. He is solid in man coverage on tight ends and running backs, and he does a tremendous job in run support. He is a sideline-to-sideline player that tackles very well in space. He can play a little too fast at times and over run plays, and he also has a tendency to fly up against the play action.
Expect South Carolina to play with a rotation of three cornerbacks on Saturday and go with all three in the nickel package. Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree are listed as the starters, but Akeem Auguste will also get plenty of snaps. Auguste is the most experienced cornerback of the bunch, and he has proved time and time again that he is a legitimate SEC cornerback despite being only 5-foot-9. Auguste is quick, instinctive athlete that does a good job timing his leaps in jump ball situations. He has solid ball skills, and understands how to play the cornerback position very well. Legree has been a pleasant surprise for the Gamecocks this season, and while he has yet to face a big time receiver, he has answered the bell every time he has been asked to this season. Legree has shown some hip stiffness this year, and hasn't shown that he can get his head around to find the football consistently. He does, however, have great length and the solid instincts in coverage. Hampton appears to be the best athlete of the three, but he is also the most raw when it comes to technique. Hampton turns and runs well, but often comes out of his back pedal a little late. He can't be considered a solid tackler in run support, but he doesn't shy away from contact either. The fact that senior safety D.J. Swearinger isn't South Carolina's best defender is simply a testament to Clowney and Taylor. Swearinger is a complete safety that is both a ball hawk and an enforcer once the ball is caught. He takes excellent angles to the football, and has the closing speed to ball carriers for minimal gains. Brison Williams mans the other safety position, and while he has been solid at times this season, he is probably the biggest question mark in the South Carolina defense. Williams is still a very good player, but he often takes wrong angles in coverage and can be a step slow when driving on the football in front of him.
• First Down - South Carolina is a base defense on this down as they only bring the blitz 19% of the time.
• Second down and long (7 or more yards) - This down and distance is the most aggressive for the South Carolina defense in terms of blitzes, and they still only bring extra defenders 41% of the time.
• Second down and medium (4-6 yards) - This down and distance has proven to be the least aggressive as the Gamecocks has only dialed up the blitz 17% of the time.
• Second down and short (less than 4 yards) - The Gamecocks tend to slant or stunt on this down (59%), but they also like to bring a blitz from the inside (31%).
•Third down and long If the yardage is more than 10 yards, South Carolina tends to blitz. They Gamecocks have brought the blitz on 88% of third and longs beyond 10 yards. If the distance is between seven and 10 yards, the Gamecocks have only blitzed 23% of the time. The overall blitz tendency for the down and distance is 38%.
• Third down and medium - Like second and medium, this down and distance is a strong base down for the Gamecocks as they blitz only 19% of the time.
•Third down and short - The Gamecocks do like to bring some pressure from the inside on third down, but very rarely bring anything off the edge. Inside pressure makes up 94% of third and short blitzes, and the Gamecocks bring any sort of pressure on this down and distance 37% of the time.
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