COLUMBIA — Ask a simple question, get a technical reply.
“The run fits have got to be right, and sometimes we've lost our eyes on some things,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said when asked about the play of his linebackers. “And we got to just clean up some fits in the run game to make sure we're right in those situations.”
Translation: The Gamecocks’ linebackers need to be better. Their statistics aren't bad, but the number of tackles only tells so much, especially since many of them are coming on the second or third try after the ball-carrier is 10 or 15 yards past first contact.
“Run fits” is often used to explain the problem. Simply, fitting the run is having a defender in every gap a running back could potentially run through. Fit ’em all and the back either gets brought down for little to no gain or has to aim for the edge of the line, which if gap responsibility is being upheld, promises another chance for little to no gain.
The defensive linemen have been doing a good job of fitting the run in their gaps. Javon Kinlaw is having a great season, as are Kobe Smith and steadily improving true freshman Zacch Pickens.
USC unveiled a three-linebacker look (Sherrod Greene, Ernest Jones, T.J. Brunson) to start against Missouri, but it was a stopgap. With the defense having to stay on the field for so many first-half snaps, it wore down. And as Mizzou quarterback Kelly Bryant began seeing linebackers matched on his receivers, he was able to complete too many passes in the second half.
“We have to continue just to do our jobs, just do it at a high level and do it better than how we’ve been playing,” Jones said. “Just have to tackle better, get everybody lined up quicker and when plays come to us, we have to make them.”
The Gamecocks want to “play behind their pads,” which means tackle with their shoulders. Otherwise, ball-carriers are able to stiff-arm, spin or run through first contact.
They want to bring “heavy hands” to their roles, where a forearm can be used to fight off a receiver who’s jostling for the ball.
They are asked to “bring their feet” on a tackle, meaning never stop moving when about to make a tackle. Don’t stand and wait, bent at the waist and arms outstretched for the guy to come to you; keep those legs churning and go get him.
USC is allowing 145 rushing yards per game, 10th in the SEC. On Saturday, Kentucky may have to lean on the run with starting quarterback Sawyer Smith injured and listed as questionable. This game could be a good indicator of how much the Gamecocks have improved.
If they have.