While the South Carolina Gamecocks’ defense ranks just 12th in the SEC in total defense and eighth in scoring defense, the statistics don’t tell the full story. They’ve got game-changing talent at all three levels and an aggressive defensive-minded head coach in Will Muschamp. For whatever reasons, they’ve underachieved as a unit this season.
The No. 9 Gators (6-1, 3-1 SEC) will have to be sharp offensively to head into the bye week with a win over the Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2).
“They just play well defensively,” guard Brett Heggie said. “They bring pressures, they play gap sound, they play hard and they run to the ball. That’s just what they are, who they are.”
As it often does in the SEC, it starts up front. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is starting to show up in the first round of mock drafts and deservedly so. He’s tied for the league lead with five sacks.
“Early in the week when I watched him, he reminds me a lot of how Carlos Dunlap was here before and Chris Jones with us at Mississippi State,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “He's a 6-6, 310-pound kid. Just very long, so he's a different type of kid that we've seen, the 6-2, 330-pound kids. He's just very long with his arms and legs, so he's got a little different technique."
Quarterback Emory Jones said slowing down their pass rush starts with he and Kyle Trask.
“Their defensive line is massive,” he said. “They get off the ball real fast, and they’re some of the top D-Linemen in the league. So, I mean, me and Kyle got to have a clock in our head, get the ball out quick and get open.”
At linebacker, Ernest Jones is second in the SEC with 50 tackles. In the secondary, cornerback Israel Mukuamu intercepted Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm three times last weekend.
“We know [Mukuamu’s] good, but we go against good corners every day in practice, so we're not too worried,” receiver Trevon Grimes said. “We're just going to go out there, play our best game and come out victorious."
Jones Becoming More Comfortable in Complimentary Role
After Feleipe Franks’ season-ending injury at Kentucky, Dan Mullen called Trask and Jones into a meeting. He told them about the two-quarterback system he ran in 2006 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow and said they could run something similar for the remainder of this season.
For Jones, that meant watching Trask play the majority of snaps and coming in every now and then as a change-of-pace option with his athleticism. At first, the dynamic seemed like an odd fit.
In the first couple of games of the platoon system, Mullen didn’t seem to trust Jones to throw the ball downfield. Almost every play called for him was a read-option, quarterback draw or screen. Defenses knew what was coming, and Jones’ playing time seemed to kill the flow of UF’s offense.
“I have seen defenses play me a lot different than they do Kyle,” Jones said. “But the way I accept it is having the mentality that even if they know what I’m about to do, I can still make whatever happen, I can do whatever I want to do. So, I don’t really worry about it.”
For the first time, the duo seemed to compliment each other well in the loss at LSU. Jones was only 1-for-3 passing for one yard, but his one completion was a tying touchdown to Lamical Perine. With the exception of one drive in the third quarter, most of his snaps came in the red zone. The Gators have struggled to run the ball all year, particularly in short-yardage situations. Jones gave LSU’s defense something new to account for, which allowed the Gators to have a little more success on the ground.
Jones said he doesn’t know what plays he’s going to run before the game, so he has to be ready at a moment’s notice if Mullen decides to send him in.
Mullen caught him off guard on Saturday, he said. Before his first play of the game, he had the headset on when Mullen told him to go in. He had to hurriedly put his helmet on and adjust it and run onto the field.
“Now I know I got to keep my helmet on at all times,” he said.
Buchanan’s High Snaps
Throughout much of the first half, center Nick Buchanan routinely snapped balls high and a little wide of the quarterbacks, which seemed to throw off the rhythm of some plays.
Hevesy said he’s not sure what exactly caused the high snaps, but he thinks Buchanan might’ve been trying to do a little bit too much with 346-pound nose tackle Tyler Shelvin lined up in front of him.
“That's what we talk about, 11 guys just do your job,” Hevesy said. “Just do what you're supposed to do, don't do any more than you're supposed to do. I think he had four in a row, I'm trying to yell to him, but he can't hear me out there. I know Kyle [Trask] did a great job of telling him, 'Hey, you're a little high. Let's get it down.'”
Despite losing to LSU, Florida seemed to gain a lot of respect from the national media for the way its offense played. The Gators went toe-to-toe with perhaps the best offense in the country on the road at night and would’ve had a chance to win the game if not for a costly interception in the end zone by Trask.
UF currently ranks 48th in total offense and 53rd in scoring offense. While still not up to the lofty standards Mullen set as offensive coordinator from 2005-08, it represents a drastic improvement from the first eight years of this decade, when the Gators routinely finished in the 100s.
Grimes said Mullen’s turnaround can be attributed to two primary factors. First, he loves spreading the ball around to a bunch of receivers, tight ends and running backs and being balanced with the run and the pass. This keeps defenses from taking away one or two things and shutting down the entire offense. Second, he does a great job of developing quarterbacks to take advantage of the depth at the skill positions.
“Even on the field, there’s times I see him literally telling them what to do from the sidelines,” Grimes said. “Having a smart coach like that is phenomenal when he knows what to do. There’s times at practice, and he’ll call out exactly what’s going to happen, and he’ll be like, ‘Touchdown Van’ or ‘Touchdown Pitts,’ and it will happen. Having a smart coach like that is always good when you’re playing for him.”