South Carolina notes: Secondary prepares for height disadvantage against Missouri

Tennessee wide receiver Marquez North makes a one-handed catch as he's defended by South Carolina cornerback Ahmad Christian in the fourth quarter Saturday. The catch set up the game-winning field goal and Tennessee won 23-21. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Grady Brown doesn’t want a penalty. Short of a yellow flag, South Carolina’s secondary coach said a defensive back has to do whatever it takes to avoid the type of catch Tennessee receiver Marquez North made on the Volunteers’ game-winning drive Saturday.

North’s 39-yard catch over USC defensive back Ahmad Christian set up Tennessee’s game-winning field goal on the final play of a 23-21 loss at Neyland Stadium. After watching the tape, Brown saw multiple ways the catch could have been prevented.

“Do anything you have to do to not let them catch the ball. That’s what you want to do,” Brown said. “Ahmad was in good position. For a number of reasons, really wish he would have made that play. Just have to compete a little bit harder. He had his arm in there, so you have to try to rake it away, or even before you get to that point maybe cut the guy off or get him out of bounds. He was so close to the sideline.

“There were a number of things we could have done better on that play. So we have to try to improve on those things this week.”

Instead, North was able to use his 6-4 height to come down with the jump ball. North was a matchup problem, finishing with three catches for 102 yards.

This week, USC’s secondary will face multiple matchup problems.

Missouri’s top three receivers are listed at 6-4, 6-6 and 6-5. The Tigers have one of the tallest receiving groups in the nation.

“A big, physical receiver, they’re able to take that contact and still make those plays,” Brown said. “They pose a lot of different threats, and a lot of different issues in terms of press coverage. You’ve got to be able to stay on guys.

“We’re going to have to compete really well this weekend and just try to be tougher than those guys.”

As of Tuesday, USC guard A.J. Cann hadn’t seen film yet of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. He didn’t need to.

Sam’s numbers prove what he can do. The senior is tied for the national lead with nine sacks this season. He has three more than any other SEC player, and seven more than USC All-American Jadeveon Clowney.

“I know he has a great get-off and, I guess, a good speed rush,” Cann said. “I guess he’s been using that as an advantage on O-linemen, getting up field real fast.”

At guard, Cann won’t line up across Sam every play, but he still expects the SEC’s leading sacker will be a frequent blocking assignment.

“They do a lot of looping and twisting, and I guess that would allow me to end up picking up the end sometimes,” Cann said. “Last year, they did a lot of looping around and twisting, and we sat back and picked it up pretty well. So whether he comes inside or not, or I set that way, we’re going to do our best to pick it up.”

Missouri freshman Matty Mauk may not have the same running ability as starting quarterback James Franklin, but the Tigers’ offense didn’t skip a beat with its backup quarterback against Florida.

Mauk completed 18 of 36 passes for 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Gators, who many consider the SEC’s top defense. The Tigers scored 36 points, continuing their hot offense this season.

“I think Mauk is more of a passer,” USC sophomore linebacker Marcquis Roberts said. “He’ll go for the deep ball. He’s pretty athletic, but not as athletic as Franklin. He’ll surprise you, though.”

Was Marcquis surprised Missouri’s offense had no dropoff with its backup quarterback?

“I can’t say I was surprised,” Roberts said. “I mean, he’s on scholarship like everybody else is, and he had to step up.”