COLUMBIA -- South Carolina still has one of college football's best defenses, at least as measured by statistics. The Gamecocks rank No. 9 nationally with 284.9 yards allowed per game and No. 24 with 20.1 points allowed per game.
But Arkansas gashed USC for 435 yards (299 passing) in last week's 44-28 win. The Razorbacks' offense was the best USC faced this season, and even though the Gamecocks didn't have their leading tackler -- spur linebacker Antonio Allen was out with a strained neck -- their defensive players were frustrated by what happened in Fayetteville.
Linebacker Shaq Wilson said the defense's mindset this week is "just being who we say we are. If we're going to be a top defense in the SEC or a top defense in the nation, we have to go out and do that every Saturday."
Today at noon, in their final Southeastern Conference game of the season, they host a Florida team whose offense has sputtered this season. The Gators rank No. 94 nationally in yards (345.8) and No. 72 in points (26). Florida quarterback John Brantley continues to recover from a high ankle sprain that knocked him out for two games last month.
So as the Gamecocks try to win the SEC East by beating Florida and having Auburn beat Georgia, you wouldn't think they should have much trouble stopping Florida and getting pressure on Brantley -- something they couldn't do often enough against Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
The Gamecocks had one sack at Arkansas -- their third straight one-sack game. But while USC was credited with five quarterback hurries in each of its previous two games (wins at Mississippi State and Tennessee), the Gamecocks were credited with just two against Arkansas.
Last week, USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the Gamecocks needed to pressure Wilson with only their four defensive linemen, because he didn't want to take linebackers out of pass coverage. But that four-man pressure wasn't nearly effective enough.
"They'd had some problems with some really good pass rushers," Johnson said. "And I thought our guys were just average. There were times we moved him around. He obviously had to leave the pocket several times. But Wilson did a great job on the run, finding the open receiver.
"A lot of the escape of quarterbacks are coming up inside. Our tackles have got to get off the blocks and be able to hem him up. The ends can get up field on about anybody. But they're not hitting the quarterback. They're forcing him back up inside, and I think our tackles have got to do a better job of getting some push and separation and then coming off on it."
Johnson said Brantley's limited mobility should allow USC to get some pressure on him, "but he looks like he makes real quick decisions and he gets the ball out."
Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has lined up Brantley in the shotgun or Pistol formations more often than usual, so he doesn't have to drive off his ankle as he drops back.
Allen is back this week, but strong safety DeVonte Holloman almost certainly won't play because of a concussion. So the onus falls on the defensive line to get pressure on Brantley and make pass coverage easier for a patchwork secondary.
"We have to figure out some more ways to get pressure on the quarterback with just the front four alone," said end Devin Taylor, "instead of having to bring an extra linebacker or safety down."
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