South Carolina’s defensive line controlled the game against Missouri last season at Memorial Stadium.
The Gamecocks, led by end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles, limited the Tigers to only 155 yards rushing and 17 first downs — both were the second-fewest of the entire season.
Quarterback Maty Mauk had easily his worst game of the four he started in place of James Franklin, going 10 of 25 for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Take away L’Damian Washington’s 96-yard touchdown on a short slant that he raced 90 yards with to the house, Mauk’s numbers get even more grisly.
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But Clowney, who was the No. 1 overall pick by the Texans in May’s NFL Draft, and Quarles are gone — good news for Missouri.
Still, the cupboard isn’t bare for South Carolina.
“I think they’re top defensive lineman is No. 97 (J.T. Surratt),” Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “He’s a really good player. He is strong, he gets off blocks, he’s a good pass-rusher in the middle of the field. He’s somebody that we’ve got to be conscious and aware of.”
Henson also singled out sophomore defensive end Darius English.
“I don’t know that you’ll see a Jadeveon Clowney again,” Henson said. “That guy’s pretty special, but (English) has a chance to be pretty good.”
For more on the Gamecocks’ new-look defensive line and other topics of interest, we chatted with South Carolina beat writer Josh Kendall at The State in Columbia, S.C.
Be sure to follow Kendall on Twitter for the latest Gamecocks news and read his work ahead of the showdown with the Tigers:
Question: Considering Missouri's struggles on the offensive line, how dominant can South Carolina be Saturday or is the front four still a work in progress without Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles?
Kendall: “South Carolina’s struggling defensive line will welcome the sight of a struggling offensive line. The Gamecocks have four sacks this season, which is among the lowest totals in the nation. They are on pace for 13 for the season, which would be about one-third of their average the last six seasons.
“Steve Spurrier has lamented the lack of pass rush to the point of virtually mocking it this week in his weekly news conference. There is no natural pass rusher in the group, so defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is likely to call more blitzes as the season goes on to affect the quarterback.”
Q: Dylan Thompson struggled against Missouri last season. How much progress has he made since that game and is he capable of shouldering the load for the Gamecocks' offense yet?
Kendall: “He calls that game a real turning point for him, particularly when it comes to patience. His interception that day really stuck with him and has served as a reminder not to be too aggressive, particularly on first and second downs. Since being pulled from that game, he is completing 62.7 percent of his passes and has thrown 13 touchdown passes versus three interceptions, so it appears he is learning his lesson thus far. That being said, he has missed some passes this year and still would like to improve his accuracy.”
Q: Much like Missouri, it appears that South Carolina has struggled to get its run game untracked. What will it take to change that and how stunning is it considering the offensive line's reputation entering the season?
Kendall: “It’s never very surprising when a Steve Spurrier team relies on the passing game, but there are a lot of factors at work here. First, Mike Davis entered the season on a lot of those long, preseason Heisman watch lists, but he has not been the same back he was through the first nine games last year.
“He’s been hampered by injuries virtually since last year’s Missouri game, and his focus could be an issue as well. Spurrier has mentioned several times Davis could head to the NFL after this season. The offensive line also hasn’t been quite what many expected it to be, in large part due to the fact that the Gamecocks are down to their third-string right guard due to injury.
“Thirdly, I think a lot of teams have geared up to stop the run game, and Spurrier is going to throw the ball if the numbers say throw it.”
Q: Opponents have had success throwing against South Carolina, but are the raw numbers still skewed by the disastrous opener against Texas A&M? How well do you think the Gamecocks will handle Maty Mauk, who is second in the nation with 14 touchdowns passes this season?
Kendall: “The numbers are skewed by the Texas A&M game to be sure, but the pass defense hasn’t been good in any game. Too many guys run wide open, particularly in the middle of the field. Man-to-man coverage has been an issue as have assignments in zone.
“Senior Brison Williams has played safety and cornerback. He is playing with a bone bruise in his right arm that is so bad that he says he can’t bring his arm together to tackle, but the coaches say they can’t afford to get him off the field because he makes the secondary calls and no one else clearly is ready to do that.”