The South Carolina defense is hanging its hat on aggression and takeaways. Through five games in 2021, this is working out quite well. The Gamecocks lead the SEC in forcing turnovers. They actually lead in both fumble recoveries and interceptions. This unit has been one of the more improved in the country from last season to this one. Defensive coordinator Clayton White has done an excellent job so far getting this group to play at a high-level week after week.
The South Carolina Defense is Thriving on Turnovers
The Gamecocks have held four of their five opponents under 350 total yards. This unit has nine interceptions on the season, returning three of them for touchdowns. They have also recovered multiple fumbles in each of the last two contests. The offense is still a work in progress for the garnet and black. That makes the improvements by the South Carolina defense all the more important. This group is playing fast and with aggression. They need to shore up a few things against the run, but overall, they are performing at a high level. Currently they rank 11th in passing yards allowed, 20th in total yards allowed, and 24th in points allowed nationally.
The new defensive scheme and mindset have had a huge effect on this unit’s growth. However, there are also a few individuals that are have star caliber seasons thus far. Kingsley Enagbare is at the top of that list. The senior defensive end is playing as well as any edge rusher in college football. While he only has two sacks to his credit in 2021, he has been disrupting opposing offenses every week. His ability to affect the quarterback even when he doesn’t get a sack is impressive. His bull rush into the face of Troy’s signal caller this past week forced a terrible throw that was picked off and returned for a score by David Spaulding. Enagbare has also shown good versatility in where he can line up. White uses him in multiple areas along the line, sometimes even standing him up pre-snap.
While the senior defensive end was expected to have a big season, the South Carolina defense has been boosted by a much less likely player as well. Jaylan Foster has gone from small school transfer, to walk-on, to starter, to now leading the SEC in interceptions. His four picks in five games are also tied for the most in the nation. Foster leads the Gamecocks in tackles as well and has forced two fumbles. The senior safety got his first career sack this past weekend against Troy. His nose for the ball, tackling, and leadership have elevated what was thought to be a weak secondary heading into the season.
Foster and Enagbare have been starring for the South Carolina defense this fall, but they are not the only key contributors. One of the more interesting subplots to a new coaching staff taking charge of a program is seeing which players flourish under the new leadership. For this Gamecock defense, it’s been the progression of Brad Johnson, Damani Staley, and Jabari Ellis that has stood out. All three seniors have been contributors over the past few years. However, each of them are on pace to have their best seasons in garnet and black in 2021.
Johnson could never find the right fit at a position early in his career. The move to middle linebacker in White’s scheme has seen him finally find his place. He is second on the team in tackles and has two sacks. Staley has taken over as a starter since Sherrod Greene got injured in week two. He has two interceptions and a forced fumble so far this year. Ellis has been starting at defensive tackle beside Zacch Pickens every game. The pair are evolving into a formidable duo in the middle of this defense.
The numbers for the South Carolina defense have been very good through five games. Now they go on the road to face a Tennessee team that just scored 62 points on Missouri. The Gamecocks will need to shore up some things versus the run this week. The Volunteers ran for 450 yards this past weekend. If White’s defense can hold the rushing attack in check, they will have a good chance to slow the Tennessee offense down. That, of course, is easier said than done. With the offense still figuring things out, this defensive unit needs to continue to play at a high level. They now have a reputation for forcing turnovers. Sustaining that success will be a huge key moving forward.