Practice report: traditional offense awaits

Practice report: traditional offense awaits

Though Kentucky is like the worst conference opponent South Carolina will play this season, they still present an offense that will prepare the Carolina defense for what is coming up. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is looking forward to a different challenge than what his defense has faced in recent weeks.

After playing two spread teams and a UAB team that tries to run the spread in the last three games, Carolina now hits a stretch of traditional offensive schemes as it hits the brutal stretch of the schedule beginning with Kentucky on Saturday night. While Kentucky is certainly no Georgia or LSU, they still present the same kind of schemes that will prepare the Gamecock defense for the Bulldogs and Tigers. They also present an offensive line that has only given up five sacks all season and four to quarterback Maxwell Smith.

"Kentucky is going to run their offense," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "The Kentucky quarterback has only been sacked four times in (three) games so they feel good about their protection. I think they will run their offense. They'll take the ball downfield and they'll throw it short."

Smith has been perhaps the most underrated quarterback so far this season. In just three games Smith has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdown passes. He sat out last week with a shoulder injury that he originally injured last season. If something happens and Smith does not play, freshman Jalen Whitlow or Morgan Newton would play.

"We figured we'd get Maxwell," Ward said. "I saw where on Tuesday he took all the reps and his shoulder was a little sore, but he felt good. We know if they throw the other two young men in there then we'll have more quarterback runs and so we prepared for that. If Maxwell is in I wouldn't think they would run it a lot."

Ward, as well as any Gamecock player that was on the 2010 team, remembers exactly what happened the last time Carolina played in Commonwealth Stadium. Carolina built a 28-10 halftime lead before losing running back Marcus Lattimore early in the third quarter with an ankle injury. With Lattimore out, the entire Gamecock team forgot how to play football, allowing the Wildcats to score 21 consecutive points to walk away with a 31-28 upset. The final touchdown described the game in a nutshell as Mike Hartline lofted up a fourth down pass to a wide open Randal Cobb inside the five. As Cobb walked into the end zone, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety DeVonte Holloman were left looking and pointing at each other trying to figure out who was supposed to be covering Cobb on the play.

"We played well early then midway through the third quarter we were up 28-10 and should have the game well in hand. Then we started to sputter on offense and they had a 12 or 13 play drive on our defense. You can't let that happen. We have to get off the field no matter what the situation is on offense. We had plenty of points if we had played well on defense."

Hartline had ample time to throw the ball throughout the second half in the 2010 match-up, something Ward does not plan on letting happen with Smith. Though Ward promised more blitzing, there hasn't been much of it the last few weeks because it hasn't been needed. The front four has been getting plenty of pressure on the quarterback, but that will change with the traditional offenses coming up. Instead of five guys blocking there will often be six or even seven. As good as the front four is for Carolina, they won't be able to pressure quarterbacks much when they have that many staying back to block. That means Ward will be sending more linebackers in to blitz to help free up some of the defensive linemen to make the plays they have made all year.

"I'm still going to call a game to put pressure on the quarterback, whether we're getting to him and sacking him or forcing him to throw the ball quicker," Ward said. "It just so happens where teams like Missouri or East Carolina spreads you out and dink and dunk you, there's no need to bring pressure. If we play a team that's going to keep six or seven guys in to protect, then we're going to bring pressure. We're going to bring one more than they can block."

The Carolina secondary has been given a much needed boost this week with the addition of cornerback Akeem Auguste. The fifth-year senior is returning from a groin injury suffered early in fall camp. The coaches have been bringing Auguste along slowly to make sure he's ready to play without having to worry about getting hurt again.

"We think he's 100% but we won't take him out there and try and let him play 50 plays," Ward said. "The plan is to play him 15-18 plays in this ball game and then try and increase it the next game against Georgia. He's done well in practice."

Though Auguste was going to be the starter entering the season, that is no longer the case. Jimmy Legree has played extremely well and has quickly become one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Legree is still the starter and Auguste will have to earn that spot or Victor Hampton's spot.

"Jimmy is the starting corner and Akeem is his back-up until he can prove he can play better than Jimmy," Ward said. "That's the way it is and Akeem understands that. Jimmy has played well and we feel good that we have three corners that we know can play in any situation. We feel good about having Akeem back but he'll have to work his way back to becoming a starter."

Ward will also get D.J. Swearinger back in the secondary after missing last week's game due to a suspension from a helmet-to-helmet hit the week before. The return of Auguste gives Ward three legitimate cornerbacks and Swearinger's return gives him three legitimate safeties. T.J. Gurley played extremely well in Swearinger's absence last week, earning high praise from Ward. Gurley took the technique he learned from secondary coach Grady Brown and was focused and ready to play, applying that technique flawlessly. Gurley has now moved to the other safety position to back up Brison Williams to give him more of an opportunity to get in the game.

"D.J. won't come out of the ball game," Ward said. "We moved T.J. to back up Brison and moved Kadetrix (Marcus) to back up D.J. We feel good about putting T.J. in the game. When Coach Brown wants to sub T.J. for Brison he'll do it."

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