Steve Spurrier built his success with the Florida Gators on an explosive offense. Since joining the South Carolina Gamecocks, his success has been predicated on the other side of the ball with a stifling defense. It has been that defense that made South Carolina into a preseason top-10 program this fall heading into their season-opener against the Texas A&M Aggies. So it makes it all the more disappointing for Gamecocks’ fans when that vaunted defense was shredded all night long en route to a 52-28 drubbing at the hands of the visiting Aggies.
Last season, South Carolina was one of the best defenses in the SEC, particularly against the pass. They allowed an average of just 196.2 yards per game in 2013, good for No. 3 in the SEC and No. 12 in the country. Their 18 interceptions were tied for No. 13 in the country while their 15 touchdowns allowed ranked them No. 20. They held opposing quarterbacks under 60 percent completion percentage last fall and recorded nearly two sacks per game. They were tenacious and many expected them to be even better in 2014 despite losing key contributors in the pass rush like Jadeveon Clowney.
But that was not the case on Thursday night. Kenny Hill, making his first start since the departure of Johnny Manziel, was prolific in tearing apart the South Carolina secondary. He completed 44 of 60 passes (73.3 percent) for 511 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. The South Carolina pass rush had minimal effect on the new quarterback, registering just one sack and three quarterback pressures as he looked downright surgical against the young, highly touted, Gamecock secondary.
The defensive front didn’t pick up the slack against the run, either. Texas A&M finished the game with 169 yards rushing on 39 attempts with four scores on the ground. Kevin Sumlin literally had his entire playbook available to him as South Carolina’s defense was completely unprepared for the Aggie assault. And that’s bad news for a team whose offense is not good enough to overcome a porous defense.
South Carolina suffered a major setback in their hunt for an SEC Championship this season, getting embarrassed on their home field by a cross-divisional opponent. But the season is a long ways from being over and the Gamecocks can rebound from this. To get back into the mix, however, they must fix some glaring issues on the defensive side of the ball that were exposed in a major way by Texas A&M.