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September 15, 2010

Pass Rush Adjusting To New Talent

It used to be so easy.

Ball is snapped. Defensive linemen push offensive linemen out of the way. Eric Norwood charges through the gap. Quarterback has no chance. Sacked.

Norwood is gone, his memory etched onto the southwest ramp of Williams-Brice Stadium as the program's career leader in sacks and tackles for loss. South Carolina is trying to duplicate what's been lost with what it has.

Thus far, it's been 50-50.

"It depends on what they're doing," defensive end Cliff Matthews said. "As far as myself, I got to keep working hard in practice at getting to the quarterback."

Through two games, the No. 13 Gamecocks have struggled with the pass-rush early but found it late. USC has four sacks, three coming in last week's upset of Georgia, but seems to be in a trend of feeling out the offense during the first half and adjusting in the second.

Even without constant pressure on the quarterbacks, USC has done very well. Despite giving up 404 yards to Southern Miss, the Gamecocks only allowed 253 to Georgia; and the only touchdown either opponent scored was a Golden Eagles six that came against USC's backup defenders.

But they want to be what they were, without what they had. Norwood is gone and the Gamecocks want to find another one.

"It's part of the scheme we've been running," linebacker Josh Dickerson said. "We've been doing a lot of quick calls and stuff like that. Coach (Ellis) Johnson, the defensive coordinator, what he's doing obviously has been working. Nobody has touched the box yet. I'm just going to keep trusting what he's doing."

The plan has worked so far. Coverage downfield has been soft to prevent the big play, which except for a couple of long passes, has done fine. The second halves of each game have seen increased pressure on the QBs, with USC getting to Georgia's Aaron Murray late last week and coming up with stops as Murray tried to escape the pocket, then get past the line of scrimmage.

"We just rushed four along the line," strong safety DeVonte Holloman said. "He's a freshman quarterback and we tried to confuse him. We knew the route combination we wanted to try and run."

It may have led to an answer.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Devin Taylor had two sacks among his three tackles for loss and showed good movement in dropping back into coverage, while still playing close to the line. His sacks came when Murray was flushed and Taylor could cut off the lane, while the other TFL came in a similar situation -- Murray dumped the ball on a screen as Tony Straughter charged and Taylor nailed the receiver just after he caught the ball.

The Gamecocks don't want to back Taylor and Matthews off the line at the same time, and with the speedy Shaq Wilson still on the shelf, they don't have a true threat at linebacker that can be counted on to rush the QB and not leave the defense hurting. But they could leave one of the ends on it and drop one back to get the offense guessing -- is that guy coming or not?

Norwood was a unique talent and there is no replacing him. The Gamecocks are simply trying to duplicate what he could do as much as they can.

"We was just mainly focused on stopping the run," defensive tackle Travian Robertson said. "Then when the game started changing and they had to pass the ball, we didn't convert that good. We'll work on that."

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