Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said this week that this is the semi-finals for the state championship. While a loss to instate foe Wofford this weekend would not end the season for twelfth-ranked South Carolina, it certainly would feel like the season is over prior to the season finale at Clemson. The Carolina defense faces one of its most difficult challenges with the Terrier option attack.
“It’s a tremendous challenge,” defensive line coach Brad Lawing said. “When you play the option you have to be disciplined, you have to execute and you have to tackle. Wofford, in my opinion, runs the option as well as anyone in the country.”
Wofford, 8-2, enters Saturday’s match-up averaging 373 yards rushing per game, which would put them atop the FBS. The Terriers wrapped up the Southern Conference last week in a 16-13 win over Chattanooga and brings in that rushing attack that features Eric Breitenstein, a 230-pound fullback, that averages 155 yards per game and has 14 touchdowns. Breitenstein has rushed for 100 yards in all but one game when he only got five carries, but scored on two of the five carries. He has at least one touchdown in seven of the nine games he played in and has multiple touchdowns in six of those games.
“The biggest thing is we have to stop the fullback,” linebacker coach Kirk Botkin said. “That’s where most option teams start and Wofford definitely has a good one. That will be the biggest challenge for us.”
The rushing attack starts and ends with Breitenstein but there are some other threats to run the ball, as is the case with any option attack. Running back Donovan Johnson averages 51 yards per game and has two touchdowns and quarterback Brian Kass has rushed for five touchdowns. It will take discipline play from all on defense. The ball really does go in many different directions as the Terriers have 12 players with at least 10 carries and 10 different guys have combined to score the 33 rushing touchdowns.
“Our ends have to do a good job of staying squared,” Lawing said. “When you play against the option you have to be disciplined because they use all four downs. Second-and-seven is usually a defensive friendly down, but when you play the option they can beat us. You have to make them play behind schedule. If you can get them to second and long that’s when you have a shot. In my experience with the option, you’re not going to stop it so you just try and contain it and maybe they will make a mistake. Mike Ayers I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He’s done a great job. That’s a great offense.”
For most option attacks, they rely on their offensive line to dive at the legs of the defense and cut-block them. That is a scary proposition for a defensive line that has battled injuries all season and is a week away from its annual battle with their bitter rival. The good thing for the defensive line is that Wofford does not utilize the cut-block as much as other teams do. Last season Carolina faced Navy and the Citadel, two programs that love to cut-block. Quarles joked that earlier this week he was going to buy shin guards to protect his shins against the Terriers.
“They cut, but they don’t do it as much as most teams, like the Citadel did last year,” Quarles said. “They play fast, they get where they need to go, and they’re disciplined. It’s going to be imperative for us to prepare ourselves for the task.”
Not only is there pressure on the defensive line and linebackers, but the secondary doesn’t get the week off. Not only must they be ready to step up and help the run, they can’t get caught watching. Kass is only 17-of-40 on the season, but has thrown for 340 yards and six scores.
“What happens this week is that they will put you to sleep with the run, run, run and if you’re not disciplined with your eyes and your technique you can easily give up 200 yards of passing and a couple of touchdowns,” secondary coach Grady Brown said. “From the corners and safety standpoint we have to make sure that we execute our responsibilities and play with our eyes in the right place.”