Oct 29, 2011; Knoxville,TN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (99) celebrates defeating the Tennessee Volunteers 14-3 at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Football: South Carolina vs. Michigan -- Outback Bowl -- A Look at the Gamecock Defense

Posted at 6:00am — 12/31/2012

Michigan Football: South Carolina vs. Michigan — Outback Bowl — A Look at the Gamecock Defense

Two 2012 successful defenses will compete against their respective offensive counterparts in the Capitol One Bowl Game on New Year’s Day. Both defensive units have high national statistical standing, if that is important to an individual reader. Regardless of the pesky numbers, it takes only casual watching to conclude two high level defenses will go against two decent, very respectable, but not nearly dominant offenses.

Two excellent defensive coordinators will be in charge of game preparation and signal calling on game day. Michigan’s Greg Mattison is uber known to Michigan observers, but perhaps only a few are familiar with South Carolina’s defensive coordinator, Lorenzo Ward.

October 20, 2012; Gainesville FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) warms up prior to the game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Ward, also known as Whammy Ward, may be accurately described as under the radar, a little under-appreciated, not of high profile, but he will always be known in coaching circles as highly competent. Coach Ward fits the mold of an aggressive defensive coordinator. He believes in bringing the heat, the sink, playing fast, and playing with a no-fear, aggressive approach.

To play fast and aggressive, Coach Ward uses the time honored keep it simple approach to avoid confusion. Brute power and speed to the ball outrank trickery. Coach Ward has followed the SEC formula for defensive lines, massive, run stopping tackles and worrisome athletic ends.

South Carolina uses a four-man line, but the alignment will seem to change and be a little strange to many viewers. The base scheme for the Gamecocks is a 4-2-5. Michigan has tinkered with this alignment. The use of a nickel back in common down and distance situations is the difference between this alignment and the more standard 4-3 alignment.

Coach Ward actually refers to the defense as a 4-2-1-4. The one is a spur/hybrid type of player that must cover strong but still be tough enough to help against the run game. The defense is flexible in that a defensive end can be dropped back turning the defense into either a 3-3 or a 3-4 alignment.

Normally, Coach Ward loves the blitz, but this year the blitz has not been frequent as in the past. This begs two possible reasons: (1) Coach is not satisfied the personnel fits the blitz mold, or (2) South Carolina has not needed to blitz since the defense has 40 sacks and over 80 negative plays.

Helping out the simplicity theorem is Coach Ward’s use of a cover zero strategy. Cover zero may technically be a zone look at the start of the play, but as the play breaks and the receivers route run, the up close backs become man-to man almost instantly. There is some help with the two or three underneath defenders, but against a team with deadly speed the zero coverage needs help from the front four to rush the passer before a layer of toast can be applied to the defensive backs.

Looking at the above, the offensive line becomes critical in slowing down the big push of the front four. The offensive coordinator needs to design quick routes that can take advantage of man-to man coverage. One receiver flying to clear out a man deep and another breaking to the sideline is a common play against this and about every other defense known to man. Run the tight end or a back underneath the deep coverage is sound strategy. Perhaps best, but needing practice, is running a bunch of crossing routes and rub offs, say like the vintage BYU teams.

The big headliners of the South Carolina defense are the front four players. And the biggest headliner of that group is the relentless Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney was the Rivals site number one recruit of 2011, Curtis Grant was second. Clowney has lived up to the hype and more. He is 6’ 6” and near 260 pounds and is one of those guys that gets to a spot in a hurry. Some folks around the web have looked at statistics only and see a guy with good but not all universe statistics. This view is a mistake in that Clowney influences almost every play, either with a tackle, a sack, hurry, or a hit. More importantly he will make offensive players, especially quarterbacks, move in a direction that is not predetermined, but instead is mandated out of personal necessity.

Clowney will not always play the end spot in South Carolina’s defensive alignment; he will be all over the line of scrimmage. Good or bad, most or all of Michigan’s offensive linemen will be involved with attempting to slow down Clowney. Is he the best defensive lineman in the country? This question is meaningless since Clowney is good enough to excel at the next level and will continue to wreak havoc on college teams until he declares for the NFL.

His listed running mate at defensive end is 6’8” Devon Taylor.

The defensive tackles fit the one big and one fast mold that many teams are seeking. Highly sought recruit Kelcy Quarles can cause a lot of problems. He is near 300 pounds a very good athlete. The big plugger is former JUCO, and now Gamecock senior, Bryon Jerideau. He probably tips the scale at 320 pounds or so, depending on breakfast and the game temperature.

Nov 17, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA South Carolina Gamecocks linebacker DeVonte Holloman (21) lines up against the Wofford Terriers at Williams Brice Stadium. South Carolina defeated Wofford 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The two linebackers are in the quick and strong mode. The quick is Shaq Wilson a senior linebacker that plays somewhat like Biggs Ross. The strong is Reginald Bowens, a player somewhat like a bigger, taller Kenny Demens. Both of the backers cover pretty well and (including the spur) have several picks this year.

Senior Devonte Holloman is the lb/s/spur/hybrid type. He is big enough to cover the run and has seven picks in his career.

The corners are senior Akeem Auguste and sophomore Victor Hampton. Both were highly sought after high school recruits, and both are in the 5’ 10” and 190 pound range.

Watch some game highlights and notice how fast South Carolina’s safeties go to the ball, near scary fast. Again, the Gamecocks have a senior/sophomore combination in the defensive backfield, D. J. Swearinger and Brison Williams. Both have sufficient size to smack offensive players around.

South Carolina has plenty of high level talent and athleticism on defense and has the advantage of having several seniors as integral parts of the unit. This is one of the best units in America.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff

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