COLUMBIA - For South Carolina's defense, motivation this week is all in the numbers.
WHO: East Carolina (1-0) at South Carolina (0-1)
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
LINE: South Carolina by 16
As in 680 yards allowed, a school record. As in 52 points given up, the most at home in over a decade. As in 511 passing yards conceded to a sophomore quarterback making his first collegiate start. They're not up in lights on the Williams-Brice Stadium scoreboard any longer, but the grisly totals from last week's Texas A&M game remain fresh in the mind.
"It was very embarrassing," said sophomore linebacker T.J. Holloman. "All the guys felt embarrassed, as we should. We should feel embarrassed after giving up that many points, setting a school record. But now we just turn that embarrassment into motivation, and keep driving and driving so it doesn't happen again."
"It hurt real bad, because I don't think anybody in the world would want to give up 700 yards to a quarterback in his first start," added senior cornerback Brison Williams -- who missed practice Wednesday with a right arm bruise -- rounding up the Aggies' total offense. "So it was kind of frustrating to be out there witnessing that. But that was last week."
That was the Gamecocks' worst home loss since the infamous 63-17 defeat to Clemson in 2003, well before the run of recent success capped by a best-ever No. 4 final ranking last season.
And much of the burden for the 52-28 setback fell squarely on a defense replacing three starters on the line and two more in the secondary - a unit which against the Aggies struggled to finish tackles or get any real pressure on quarterback Kenny Hill, who screen-passed his way straight to the top of the Texas A&M record book.
No wonder, then, sophomore linebacker Jonathan Walton described practice this week as "intense." With East Carolina (1-0) bringing another up-tempo spread offense into Columbia this Saturday, the Gamecocks' defense clearly feels a responsibility to not let what happened last weekend happen again.
"This week is really going to be a test to show what kind of people we have on the team, to show how strong-minded we are," said senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt. "We have to get back out there and get back on the bike. We fell off, but we've got to get up and keep going. This week is really going to test that."
"We took the loss as motivation," added sophomore defensive end Gerald Dixon. "We're going to get right this week. Hopefully the game plan we have this week works better than it did last week."
Toward that end, head coach Steve Spurrier has sped up the tempo of practice to try and prepare his players for the pace another no-huddle offense will bring into Williams-Brice Stadium. There's been an emphasis on tackling drills, Holloman said, with players focusing not just on wrapping up, but flying to the ball as a unit rather than individuals. There's an attempt to not bite as hard on the run, something which allowed Hill to have so many open receivers on short underneath routes.
And above all, there's a concerted effort to get more pressure on the quarterback, something 21st-ranked South Carolina - which registered just one sack and three tackles for loss - flatly was unable to do in the opener. Instead of one-on-one drills, the Gamecocks (0-1) are doing full-line drills to try and better simulate game conditions, often with four defenders going up against a five-man offensive line.
"The people we've got here, we can get things done," Surratt said. "The guys we've got on the defensive line . we can be as good if not better than last year. Yeah, this is a little bump in the road. We came out a little shaky. But I still feel like this week, we can prove ourselves and get the job done."
Gamecock players say they see similarities in the passing games of Texas A&M and East Carolina, whose quarterback Shane Carden passed for a school-record 4,139 yards last season in guiding the Pirates to a 10-3 mark. ECU also relies heavily on screen passes, which Hill used to carve up the South Carolina defense last week.
This time, though, the Gamecocks believe they'll be ready - and that the final numbers will be different.
"Everybody has a chip on their shoulder this week. Everybody has a feeling of, 'We want to show we can be better,'" Surratt said. "We've got to believe the passing game is going to be a little bit different, regardless of how fast they get the ball out, or whatever East Carolina chooses to do. We're going to do some better things this week."
In the span of a few days, running back Mike Davis has progressed from doubtful to almost certain for the East Carolina game. Speaking Wednesday on a teleconference, Spurrier sounded much more optimistic that his star tailback would be ready to go.
"He should be pretty close to full speed Saturday night," Spurrier said.
Davis left the Texas A&M game in the third quarter with a recurrence of a rib bruise that he first suffered when he took a helmet in the ribs during the Gamecocks' final scrimmage. Spurrier was initially doubtful about Davis' availability for Saturday, but added Wednesday that the junior "feels pretty good, I guess, and he should be ready to go."
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