South Carolina must stop run

Miles to get start over injured Lattimore


COLUMBIA — All week, the defensive portions of South Carolina’s practices focused more than usual on what players like to call “the little things” — wrapping up while tackling, driving the ball carrier back by continuing to move your feet after you hit him. Those are the things “that we didn’t do last Saturday” in a 23-21 loss at LSU, said spur outside linebacker DeVonte Holloman. If the ninth-ranked Gamecocks fail to do them again this Saturday afternoon at third-ranked Florida, they will have little chance of winning the game or, as a result, the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.

“What we spent time doing is preparing for the run game,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We gave very little emphasis to their passing game. If they want to throw the football, so be it. That’s what I want them to do.”

USC’s couldn’t stop LSU’s rushing attack. The Tigers gashed the Gamecocks for 258 yards and 4.9 per carry. USC entered the game allowing 83.8 rushing yards per game and 2.4 per carry — and never more than 120 and 3.4 in a game. Seven times, LSU ran for at least 10 yards. Two other carries covered nine yards. Ward called it USC’s worst tackling performance of the season.

“It was just frustrating,” Holloman said. “Some plays, we were at the point of attack and did not make those plays that we’ve been making all year. I felt like we kind of took a punch and we didn’t give one back sometimes. Being more physical, that’s what we’re working on.”

USC can ill afford shoddy run defense against Florida, which ranks No. 14 nationally with 233.3 yards per game, No. 22 with 5.2 yards per carry and No. 12 with 45.2 rushing attempts per game. The Gators are running the ball 70 percent of the time under first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

Tailback Mike Gillislee runs 20 times a game for a 102.5-yard average. Two weeks ago against LSU, he carried 34 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is an adept option runner with 57 carries (to Gillislee’s 120) for 54.3 yards per game and four touchdowns. Last week at Vanderbilt, Driskel kept the Gators undefeated by running 11 times for 177 yards. He had gains of 13, 17 and 19 yards, and touchdowns of 13, 37 and 70 yards.

“He was the difference,” said USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing. “I mean, wow.”

Florida is especially effective running the ball late in games. That’s a big reason why the Gators are out-scoring opponents 98-23 in the second half, compared to 69-51 in the first. Florida ranks No. 66 nationally with 492 rushing yards in the first half (4.2 per carry) and No. 7 nationally with 908 rushing yards after halftime (5.9 per carry).

LSU ran for 87 yards and 3.6 per carry in the first half against USC, and 171 (5.9 per carry) in the second half, including a 50-yard touchdown run that sealed the victory. The Gamecocks wore down late, as the Tigers won the time of possession battle for the game by 13:54, largely because they converted 11 of 19 third downs.

“It’s going to be a good task for us to come out there and finish the game,” said linebackers coach Kirk Botkin.

USC won’t have starting defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (sprained shoulder) against Florida. The two other primary tackles, starter Byron Jerideau and reserve J.T. Surratt, are trying to recover from sprained ankles in time to play. Ward is optimistic that they will.

Even with Surratt likely starting for Quarles, Holloman feels confident that USC will be able to limit Driskel without using a “spy” assigned specifically to monitoring him.

“He’s a good runner, but we feel like our front four is good enough to contain him,” Holloman said.

While LSU and Florida both run often, Holloman said LSU is more of a “downhill” power running team. Linebacker Shaq Wilson said the Tigers frequently used 22 personnel against the Gamecocks — a power set with two running backs, two tight ends and one receiver.

“It’s basically like a goal line-type of running,” Wilson said.

But while Florida might not run straight ahead as often as LSU did, the Gators will occasionally go with a “heavy” formation, using one or two extra offensive linemen — more blockers for Wilson and the linebackers to deal with, as they try to apply what they practiced this week.

“If we can get the run stopped and make them one-dimensional,” Wilson said, “we’ll do very good.”

USC coach Steve Spurrier said on his Thursday radio show that tailback Marcus Lattimore (bruised hip) would dress for Florida, but won’t start. Kenny Miles will. Lattimore got hurt at LSU and has been limited in practice this week. ... Quarles’ shoulder likely was going to prevent him from playing anyway, but Ward said the coaches are suspended him for the Florida game and keeping him in Columbia because he punched an LSU player. If Surratt starts, it’ll be the first start of his career. USC could also rely on redshirt freshmen defensive tackles Phillip Dukes and Gerald Dixon Jr.