COLUMBIA - There is one thing for certain heading into No. 9 South Carolina's season-opening football game against No. 21 Texas A&M on Thursday at Williams-Brice Stadium - the Gamecocks will unveil a new 3-4 defensive scheme.
The question remains though of exactly how much of the alignment the Aggies can expect to see. It even varies depending on who you ask among the South Carolina coaching staff.
"We've always had the ability to play stand-up a defensive end and play a 3-4," linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. "It's not much different than we've been doing in the past. We're about 50-50 in the 4-2-5 and 3-4 right now. It's really not foreign from what we've already done."
Defensive line coach Deke Adams said it's a formation that has been worked on since the spring but it's nothing much different than what the Gamecocks have shown in the past.
"It's going to be something we mix in," Adams said. "We're a 4-2-5 team and just because we're changing some things up everybody is in an uproar about it. We'll mix it in just like other teams do."
Ultimately, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will make the final decision on how much the new look will be used.
Texas A&M has announced that sophomore Kenny Hill will get the starting nod under center in his first career start. Hill played limited snaps last season in place of the flamboyant, former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel so one of the biggest keys will be how he handles the pressure of making his first career start in a hostile environment.
The Aggies are expecting to use a quick, sure-fire attack that will allow Hill and opportunity to get rid of the ball quickly with the hopes to exploit a young, inexperienced USC secondary. The Gamecocks in turn plan to bring enough pressure that Hill and his talented group of receivers can't find their rhythm.
That could be the beauty of the 3-4 for South Carolina. Texas A&M will know pressure is coming, they just won't know from what direction.
"You can do a lot more defensively with the 3-4," Ward says. "There is a threat of pressure (on the quarterback) every snap ... four guys are going to rush eventually, and you don't know which four are coming."
One of the main reasons USC is going to this new look is a season ago, the experience and talent for the Gamecocks seemed to be on the defensive front. Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton have each moved on to NFL camps and senior J.T. Surratt is the most experienced person along the line for South Carolina.
The linebackers were untested and unproven so the defensive staff tried to mask their deficiencies early. Now, that could be the most battled-tested group with Skai Moore, T.J. Holloman, Kaiwan Lewis, and Marcquis Roberts among the returners.
"When you don't have a big-name pass rusher that's proven himself, and your most experience coming back is at the linebacker spot, you've got to make sure you've got your players on the field in the right position," Ward said. "Anytime you had a great end like Clowney, you didn't have to worry about creating pressure on the quarterback because you had one guy who could do it himself. We've been blessed with that scenario since I've been here. ... But until we get a guy who can rush the passer, we'll be more creative with the 3-4."
When South Carolina goes to the 3-4, freshman Bryson Allen-Williams will likely step in the starting "Bob" linebacker role. That moniker stands for "Big ole Backer" and gives Allen-Williams a chance to rush the passer or play in coverage. Ward said when they were recruiting Allen-Williams out of Cedar Grove High School in Georgia they had this position in mind for the 6-1, 231-pounder.
"When we recruited Bryson, we thought he had the ability to play," Ward said. "He's picked it up well and we're trying to make sure he learns one position, which is Bob."
Ward also insinuated the new scheme has to do more with the personnel he has than any change in philosophy.
"When you're put in the position that I'm in," Ward says, "you have to be able to do what your players can do."