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August 20, 2011

Defense wins the day in scrimmage



Exactly two weeks from today, South Carolina will square off with East Carolina in the 2011 season-opener.

But if Saturday's scrimmage, the third of preseason camp, was any indication, the Gamecocks' offense has a lot of work to do over the next 14 days.

With second- and third-teamers seeing most of the action, the USC defense limited the offense to five first downs and 61 total yards in 33 plays - including just 3 yards rushing over 14 attempts - in front of an estimated crowd of 5,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Three quarterbacks - Stephen Garcia (3-for-11, 33 yards), Andrew Clifford (2-for-6, 16 yards) and Dylan Thompson (1-for-2, 9 yards) combined to complete six passes in 19 attempts for 58 yards.

Only one running back had more than 10 yards, freshman Brandon Wilds with 19 yards on six carries. Damiere Byrd (two catches for 20 yards) was the lone wide receiver with more than one reception.

"The defense took charge today," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "They shut out the offense. We put the ball on the 30 and the offense barely made a first down or two. In the goal-line period, the defense got the best of the offense.

"The offense scored here and there (in the red-zone drill before the scrimmage started), but overall the defense had a much better day today. They made very few mistakes, tackled well. I was impressed the way the defense played."

Working mainly with backups, Garcia struggled to find a spark at any point in his five series. Spurrier's reaction? He said little.

"You all watched him. You were here," Spurrier said. "That's why I like for you guys to be here. Everybody thinks I'm critical of him. I'm not going to say anything. You guys watched him play. The whole offense wasn't very good."

Connor Shaw sat out after dislocating his thumb in Wednesday's scrimmage. He is expected to return to practice on Monday or Tuesday, Spurrier said.

"He feels he can go out there and throw," Spurrier said. "He wears a glove a lot and I think that will help keep it more solid and so forth. We'll see how that works out next week."

Would Shaw have made a difference for the USC offense on a day when little seemingly went right?

"I don't know," Spurrier said. "We'll have to go watch the tapes and so forth. The offense was very lethargic, it seemed like. They couldn't get much of anything going. The defense was very solid."

Running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, USC's top two weapons on offense, did not make an appearance in the scrimmage.

And it showed.

Unlike the second scrimmage three days ago, Saturday's affair started badly for the offense and went downhill after that.

Garcia's first pass was tipped close to the line of scrimmage and intercepted by senior cornerback Marty Markett, who has been placed on scholarship.

With Victor Hampton suspended for the first three games for academic reasons, Markett is positioned to grab the fourth cornerback spot. He has one career start, at Florida in 2010.

"Today was a good opportunity for some down-the-line players to get a lot of work," Assistant Head Coach for Defense Ellis Johnson said. "They played hard, but made a lot of mistakes. We had a good goal-line session that wasn't particularly physical. The execution was pretty good. We've been getting a very good mix of all situations. I'm sure (Spurrier) will continue to evaluate the film and see where he thinks we're deficient."

The offense went three-and-out on the next two series. Lamar Scruggs dropped a pass from Garcia on the first snap of the third series before Eric Baker gained 7 yards on two carries.

After Garcia's pass was broken up by Markett on the first snap of the fourth series, he was replaced by Clifford. The redshirt sophomore from Tampa, Fla., quickly hit freshman K.J. Brent for 12 yards, the initial first down of the scrimmage by the offense. However, a pair of poor shotgun snaps derailed the offense's momentum.

Brent made an outstanding grab of a second down pass from Clifford, but was ruled out of bounds.

Wilds gained 16 yards on consecutive carries to pick up a first down close to midfield early in the fifth series. But a third-down reverse to Bruce Ellington was blown up by the defense, forcing a punt.

"I was impressed with the defense today," Spurrier said. "They had very few errors and mistakes. We simplified some things, turned them loose and let them play. Our defensive play was encouraging."

Byrd registered his first reception of the day with a 9-yard catch to open the sixth series. After Shon Carson picked up the first down, back-to-back sacks, including one by Jadeveon Clowney, drove the offense backwards.

"(Clowney) is going to be one of our rushers and he's going to play a lot," Spurrier said. "He may even start, I'm not sure yet. We're still a couple of weeks away. Jadeveon is doing well. He is doing what we expected."

Clowney continues to be difficult, if not impossible, to block one-on-one.

"I've just been listening and following directions," Clowney said. "I've just been trying to get the playbook down. I've been taking notes from the older guys. They've been pretty good."

Byrd picked up his second catch of the day for an 11-yard gain on the second snap of the seventh series. Three plays later, the offense faced a fourth-and-1 situation at midfield. Baker took the handoff and was stacked up behind the line of scrimmage for no gain.

DeAngelo Smith, battling for a spot in the wide receiver rotation, made a nice leaping catch for a 16-yard gain on the first play of the eighth series, but Spurrier halted the scrimmage after a run lost four yards and then had an incomplete pass.

Smith's catch represented the longest completion of the scrimmage. Unlike past scrimmages, the Gamecocks failed to complete a deep pass.

"We've hit a long pass in every scrimmage, but didn't hit any today," Spurrier said. "We've hit some 20- or 30-yarders, but didn't hit any today. It was just good solid defensive play and not very good offensive play."

Overall, the USC offense averaged a miniscule 1.85 yards per play and was again plagued by poor snaps from center, which is increasingly becoming a concern for the offensive coaching staff.

"The offense didn't do much at all," Spurrier said. "We had another high snap again. It's embarrassing we can't snap the ball in the shotgun. It was a little disappointing that the offense couldn't do much. That's where we are right now. The defense played their assignments well, covered well and got pressure on the quarterback. We hit a few here and there, but nothing much at all."

In short, the USC offense didn't execute like the No. 12 team in the country, which is where the Gamecocks landed in the preseason Associated Press poll released on Saturday.

"I told our guys today that we're probably an overrated bunch of dudes right now and an overrated bunch of coaches right now," Spurrier said. "We don't look very good. But that's the way it is. We have two weeks to see if we can learn how to play smart, play with discipline and play physical."

SCRIMMAGE STATISTICS

PASSING: Stephen Garcia 3-11-1-33; Andrew Clifford 2-6-0-16; Dylan Thompson 1-2-0-9

RUSHING: Brandon Wilds 4-19; Shon Carson 2-7; Eric Baker 4-2; Andrew Clifford 1-(-4); Bruce Ellington 1-(-7); Dylan Thompson 2-(-14)

RECEIVING: Damiere Byrd 2-20; DeAngelo Smith 1-16; K.J. Brent 1-12; Corey Simmons 1-6; Nick Jones 1-4

SCORING PLAYS: None

NOTES:

-- Because of the high shotgun snaps, the USC centers had to snap the ball 50 times each before they left the Williams-Brice Stadium field on Saturday. "We'll do that every day," Spurrier said. "That's the only way we can get our centers to throw it back correctly."

-- Johnson hasn't closed the door to freshman free safety Brison Williams returning late in the season after he recovers from his broken lower arm. Johnson said Williams will definitely be sidelined six to eight weeks.

-- Johnson said ECU preparations should begin in the middle of next week, giving USC about eight or nine practices to get ready for the Sept. 3 showdown (7 p.m., Fox Sports South) against the Pirates in Charlotte.

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