For most football fans this time of year, summer seems to be dragging by and September 1st can’t get here fast enough. In Columbia, SC, the feeling is no different. Despite all the roster questions and uncertainty of a new coaching regime, Gamecock fans have a sense of excitement for their trip to Nashville to open the season against Vanderbilt. New head coach, Will Muschamp has brought a renewed enthusiasm to the program that was noticeably lacking in Steve Spurrier’s last two seasons, especially on the defense.
Gamecock Defense Looks to Regain Swagger
South Carolina’s fan base has been buoyed by the relentlessness recruiting of the new staff. The ability to recruit is the life blood of building any program, but especially in the SEC. Hiring Will Muschamp brought mixed reviews from both Gamecock fans and pundits from all over. Despite struggles in his time at Florida, the one thing most fans can agree on is his ability to bring a strong and angry defense back to USC.
Beyond the disappointments of the 10-17 record over the last two seasons, the most upsetting thing for fans of the garnet and black is the way the defense had been pushed around. Even before the remarkable three straight 11-win seasons led by the HBC, the Gamecocks heavily relied on a strong defense. After having 15+ players on that side of the ball drafted into the NFL since 2000, defensive performances for the last two seasons have been laughable.
The memories of Jadeveon Clowney, Melvin Ingram, and Eric Norwood flying past opposing offensive lines or Jonathon Joseph and Stephon Gilmore locking down receivers seem very distant now. The fire and emotion so admirably displayed by former safety D.J. Swearinger became a thing of the past. Since his departure, it seemed no one was willing to step up to lead. Giving up 500 yards and over 30 points seemed common place as the intense and aggressive reputation of the program disappeared. Soft coverage and a distinct lack of an assertive mentality put Carolina in consistently bad positions. While poor tackling and lack of explosive plays also left them vulnerable to any offense they faced.
Will Muschamp Brings Hope
Enter the man known as Coach Boom. A man who is never lacking in his fiery attitude or his toughness, he will look to bring those attributes back to Columbia. That personality is perhaps why, despite a talent deficiency, some Gamecock fans are quietly optimistic that he can get the defense to show vast improvements over what we’ve seen the last two years. The defense can be as much about effort and aggression as it is about abundance of talent. An attacking mindset on defense can often cover for lack of talent by putting the opposition on its heels. South Carolina has done very little of that recently, playing passively and allowing teams to move the ball comfortably against them.
The off-season loss of Skai Moore to injury will no doubt hurt Carolina, but linebacker may be the one position they could afford a loss and still have decent depth. It will still affect this team, however, because losing your best player is never a positive. The likes of Jonathon Walton, T.J. Holloman, and Bryson Allen-Williams will need to step their games up. All three have shown flashes, but more consistency will certainly be needed to cover for losing an impact player like Moore.
The defensive line and secondary are both filled with questions. Until the season starts, finding answers will be a guessing game. The hope will be that Coach Muschamp’s defensive pedigree will shine through even in his first season in Columbia. Then he can begin the Gamecocks’ climb back to respectability. It took seemingly little time for USC to fall from a program whose defense ranked with the likes of LSU, Florida, and Alabama, to one that is propping up the bottom of the statistical categories. An equally quick turnaround in the other direction will be needed if Coach Boom wants this program back on the path as a contender for the SEC.