SEC: Lorenzo Ward

Todd GurleyScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley leads the nation in yards per attempt with 13.2 yards per carry.
It's a question that perplexes defensive coordinators and causes players to laugh: How do you stop Georgia running back Todd Gurley? Better yet, how do you stop this Todd Gurley?

Clemson certainly couldn't do it. After getting into the best shape of his life leading into the 2014 season, Gurley embarrassed Clemson's defense with a career-high 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns on -- wait for it -- 15 carries. Really? Fifteen carries?

Oh, and in the middle of all that foolishness, he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Sorry folks, but Gurley isn't a human being. I don't know if he's a cyborg or even from this planet, but there's a reason he played a character resembling Superman in teammate Chris Conley's "Star Wars" movie.

This version of Gurley, who is eerily elegant in the way he either bulldozes opponents or sprints right past them, looks unstoppable. So unstoppable that even Gurley wouldn't want the task of trying to tackle himself.

"Watching film and seeing how other guys get tackled, I'm not sure guys like tackling me," Gurley said. "I watch Clemson, and saw how they were tackling [South Carolina running back] Mike Davis and other backs, and it wasn't the same. I don't blame them. I'm 6-1 and 230 pounds. DBs are 5-10 and 180 [pounds]. Why would you want to tackle a guy as big as me?"

Step right up South Carolina, because that's your responsibility Saturday.

"I don't know if I've faced a back of Gurley's capability and is big, strong, fast, can run around you, can run over you, breaks a lot of tackles, has great hands out of the backfield," South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of Gurley. "I can't say that I've faced a complete back like Gurley."

But can Gurley be stopped Saturday, especially with South Carolina's defense limping in and allowing 150.5 rushing yards (5.0 yards per carry) so far this season?

How exactly do the Gamecocks intend to stop one of the nation's best running backs Saturday afternoon?

"I don't know," South Carolina safety Brison Williams said with a chuckle. "… He's showed that you can't game plan against him."

In one respect, Williams is right to be hesitant with a real answer. How do you stop a train?

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gurley registered a career-high 102 yards after contact and seven rushes that gained at least 10 yards against Clemson. In Gurley's career, he has averaged 46 YAC per conference game (2.8 YAC per carry) and has 89 rushes of at least 10 yards (which is tops in the SEC over the past three seasons).

That means you have to put a lot of hands on Gurley at the same time in order to bring him down and stop those tree trunks he calls legs from churning.

Do you push him outside or keep him running through the middle? Well, that's a tough one to answer when you consider this: According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the past two seasons, Gurley has averaged the fourth-most yards nationally per rush (6.0) inside the tackles (minimum 100 attempts) and fifth most outside the tackles (7.6).

"We have to have 11 hats on the ball," said Ward, who wants to stack the box more when Gurley is in. "We can't be tackling one-on-one, we have to have gang-tackling all day."

Through two games, the Gamecocks' defense has been a shell of its former self, allowing the fourth-most yards in the nation (1,133). South Carolina has been atrocious against the pass, allowing the most yards after the catch (454) of any Power 5 defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You think that will get Gurley more involved in the passing game Saturday?

Gurley has been stopped before. South Carolina proved that in 2012, holding him to 39 yards. He has missed out on 100 yards in 11 of his 25 career games. It must be noted -- and this isn't taking anything away from teams that legitimately contained Gurley -- that nagging injuries and the fact that Georgia just hasn't needed to run Gurley down in every game have played a part in that.

There's a very, very good chance that if Gurley were allowed to go all Playstation on teams (not leaving games ever), that number would be much closer to 25.

"He can do just about anything he wants to do back there, and that's what makes him dangerous," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Gurley.

Gurley is just that good. Despite the nagging injuries that he has dealt with during his career, Gurley entered the 2014 season with 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns on 387 carries.

You think that's impressive? Well, ponder this for a second: Add his season-opening numbers, and he has rushed for just 50 negative yards on 402 carries.

"He's a horse, man," Williams said with a laugh. "He runs the ball real hard. He's a physical runner, he runs down field, he's fast and big. We can't have no one-on-one tackles, it has to be a group of guys tackling him."

Good luck.

Gamecocks' Moore ready for Round 2

August, 15, 2014
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Had Miami not been so slow to pull the trigger during the recruiting process, Skai Moore admits that he'd be a Hurricane right now.

“I grew up a Canes fan my whole life. That was my dream school,” Moore said.

Dreams die hard, although in Moore's case, he's anything but crushed. Not after a dream debut season at South Carolina and what should be an even better sophomore season.

[+] EnlargeSkai Moore
Jeff Blake/The State/MCT via Getty ImagesEntering his sophomore season, Skai Moore aims to play a key role in a deep and experienced linebacker corps.
He led the Gamecocks in total tackles (56) and interceptions (four) last season as a true freshman and did so without the benefit of spring practice. Even though he always seemed to be around the ball, Moore said he was in third gear more times than not because he was still acclimating himself to the college game.

“I'll be able to play a lot faster,” Moore said. “Last year, I was really just focusing more on not messing up and thinking a little too much out there and didn't know where my help was coming from. Now, it's almost like high school. I have the scheme down. I know where my help is coming from, and it's slowing down for me. I'm able to anticipate better.”

Already perched among the most promising young linebackers in college football, Moore will see his role expand in South Carolina's defense. He played in all 13 games a year ago, but started in only four.

In fact, the Gamecocks entered last season without a single linebacker who had ever started a college game.

Now, all of a sudden, they're brimming with experience, depth and talent at linebacker, so much so that they plan to utilize a 3-4 look some on defense to get their playmakers on the field.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward thinks he has nine players, counting the hybrid spur position, who are ready to play at linebacker.

And with Jadeveon Clowney now doing his thing in the NFL, the Gamecocks will mix it up a little more after playing primarily out of a 4-2-5 base the last few years.

“We don't have a great pass-rusher, per se, on the team that has proven himself,” Ward said. “We have some guys who can be, but they haven't proven themselves. Until they do prove themselves, we have to take advantage of bringing linebackers and doing some different things to create pressure.

“Overall, they're our most experienced group even though they're young. They all had to play last year.”

Moore will line up on the weak side and will be backed up by fellow true sophomore Jonathan Walton. Redshirt sophomore T.J. Holloman and junior Kaiwan Lewis are working in the middle, while senior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt sophomore Jordan Diggs are the two spurs.

That fourth linebacker spot could be manned by sophomore Larenz Bryant or true freshman Bryson Allen-Williams, while redshirt sophomore Marcquis Roberts is versatile enough to play a couple of different spots.

“We're two deep with a lot of talent, and we're not going to have any drop-off when we rotate linebackers,” Moore said.

Since arriving on campus last summer, the 6-foot-2 Moore has bulked up 15 pounds and plans on playing right around 220 this season. That's not counting the additional weight of the chip he still carries on his shoulder from being spurned by all the Florida schools out of high school.

Moore helped lead his University School team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to an unbeaten season and the Class 3A state championship. But neither Florida nor Florida State recruited him, and Miami waited until the night before signing day to extend an offer.

“It was too late by then,” Moore said. “I don't know what they were waiting on.”

South Carolina didn't get involved with Moore until that December, and defensive backs coach Grady Brown was the point man in flipping Moore to the Gamecocks after he had initially committed to Rutgers.

“I developed a great relationship with Coach Brown,” Moore said. “He told me to be sure and watch their bowl game. I watched it, came on a visit here (in January) and loved it.

“It all worked out the way it was supposed to, but I still feel like I have something to prove. A lot of schools overlooked me, a lot of schools from my state. I want to make sure they know what they're missing out on every time I go out there.”

South Carolina spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the South Carolina Gamecocks:

1. Offense is deep: As long as fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson stays healthy, South Carolina shouldn’t have many issues on offense. The backfield is deep and talented with Mike Davis leading the way. The offensive line is loaded with future NFL players. Although Bruce Ellington turned pro, the receiving corps features plenty of explosive options. With Steve Spurrier at the controls, it should be an entertaining year to watch the Gamecocks move the ball in a wide variety of ways.

2. Linebacker will be a strength: South Carolina’s defense certainly has some holes to fill, but the linebackers are a proven commodity. Three of the Gamecocks’ top-five tacklers return in Skai Moore, Kaiwan Lewis and Marcquis Roberts. It's a deep group of playmakers who could carry the defense while some new faces finds their way early in the season.

3. Defense has a lot to prove: Losing one of the best defensive talents ever to don garnet and black, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, will obviously be a blow. Same with defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton and cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Those guys were the rocks of a solid South Carolina defense last season, and their absences were evident in the spring game when the defenses surrendered 6.5 yards per play and 16.8 yards per completion. The cupboard isn’t bare, but the Gamecocks still must fill a lot of holes.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who takes over at cornerback? This seems to be the most likely position where a freshman might earn immediate playing time. The Gamecocks added a slew of talented cornerbacks -- including three of their four highest-rated signees in ESPN’s rankings, Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith and Wesley Green -- and struggled a bit at the position during the spring without Hampton and Legree. Safety Brison Williams and Rico McWilliams started at corner in the spring game, and Jamari Smith might be another name to watch. But it’s clear that nothing is settled at the position as of now.

2. Who backs up Thompson? Spring practice proved that Thompson is head and shoulders above the competition at quarterback. But who steps in if the senior suffers an injury? Connor Mitch is one option. Brendan Nosovitch and Perry Orth are others. Not yet on campus is a fourth option, signee Michael Scarnecchia. Thompson has already played a lot while sharing time with the departed Connor Shaw, but the reserves are a completely unproven bunch.

3. Might this be the SEC’s best backfield? The star power at Alabama and Georgia attracts more attention, but the talent in South Carolina’s backfield is nothing to sneeze at. Davis proved himself as a tough runner and home run threat last season, rushing for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns before fading late because of injury issues. In Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson, the Gamecocks have another two SEC-caliber backs, and the Gamecocks’ coaches seem excited about adding redshirt freshman David Williams to the mix. The depth here is excellent, and the backs will be running behind a stout offensive line. That should make for a highly productive running game in the fall.

One way-too-early prediction:

This is the golden age of South Carolina football, and Spurrier will add another impressive chapter this season. Namely, the Gamecocks’ streak of three straight seasons with at least 11 wins will grow to four. Although Lorenzo Ward’s defense has a lot to prove, the offense should be good enough to help the D hit its stride like it did as last season progressed. Plenty of preseason publications will name South Carolina as the favorite to win the SEC East, and that’s for good reason. Spurrier’s staff has built one of the league’s most consistent programs, and it should once again rank among the top contenders this season.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina’s Mike Davis just concluded a quiet spring.

But come fall, in his words, it’s on.

“I’m going to run angry next season, and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Davis, who received only minimal contact this spring after rushing for 1,183 yards a year ago in his first season as the Gamecocks’ starting running back.

A second-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, Davis was one of the breakthrough players of the year in the league. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and rushed for 100 yards in seven of his first nine games.

But when November arrived, Davis was running on fumes. He injured his shoulder and ribs against Mississippi State, but it was a bum right ankle that he couldn’t shake.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxThe grind of the SEC schedule got to South Carolina running back Mike Davis in 2013.
“Every game, it felt like people started falling on it just because,” Davis lamented.

Davis finished with 203 carries. The only two backs in the SEC (playing in 12 or fewer games) who carried it more were Tennessee’s Rajion Neal (215) and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (207). By the time Davis got to Florida, Clemson and Wisconsin, all three with stout run defenses, he didn’t look like the same player.

He was still running as hard, but the wear and tear from the season had obviously taken a huge toll.

“I was hurting, but I was still playing,” Davis said. “That’s the time of year a lot of guys are hurting. But you keep going. You’re playing for the guys around you.”

Some of the best news for Davis is that he will have more guys around him at running back in 2014. He won’t have to carry it as much during the early part of the season, meaning he should be fresh for the stretch drive.

Junior Brandon Wilds is healthy again, and the Gamecocks also like junior Shon Carson’s versatility. One of the most physically impressive backs on campus is redshirt freshman David Williams, who has explosive speed.

“When one person is beat up, another can come in and our offense is still going to run the same,” Davis said. “We will be the same offense. We have four guys who can play for anybody.

“Brandon Wilds has done a great job. Shon Carson is killing it this offseason, and David Williams is a freak athlete. He has everything you want in a running back -- size and power -- and his speed will wow you with how big he is.”

The centerpiece of that deep running back stable, though, will remain the same -- No. 28.

And despite his 1,000-yard season last season, Davis still carries a big chip on his shoulder. It goes back to his recruitment.

The Lithonia, Ga., native was committed to Florida for several months, but he soured on the Gators when he found out they were also trying to recruit Keith Marshall late in the process.

“I talked to Keith Marshall, and he told me they sent the whole coaching staff to his house, and they told me that they didn’t,” said Davis, whose other brother, James Davis, played at Clemson.

“I knew Florida was going to take two running backs, and I knew Matt Jones wasn’t going to change his mind. I had asked if they were recruiting other running backs beside us, and they told me no. But when I found out they sent all their coaches to [Marshall’s] house for an in-home visit and only the tight ends coach to my house, I felt very disrespected.”

Davis decommitted from Florida soon after and told South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward privately that he would sign with the Gamecocks. Ward had stuck with Davis through the whole recruiting process and they shared a strong bond.

We will be the same offense. We have four guys who can play for anybody.

-- South Carolina running back Mike Davis, on the running backs who will be his backups in 2014
Of course, that didn’t mean the recruiting drama was completely over.

“Georgia came -- all the teams did toward the end -- but it was too late,” Davis said. “I looked at it like, ‘I’m in Georgia. I’m one of the top running backs. How come I’m just getting an offer from UGA?’ With, Clemson, my brother went there. So I was like, ‘Why are you just now hopping on?’

“They were all too late to the game. I think they looked at me as a backup plan, that they’d go recruit other guys and if they didn’t get them, they’d go get me. That’s how I looked at it.

“But I’m nobody’s backup plan.”

Davis bulked up to more than 220 pounds this spring but wants to play at around 215. He said he was between 205 and 210 last season.

“You’re going to see a totally different person. I’m not going to lie,” Davis said. “I did a lot to help myself and better myself this offseason, trying to stay healthy. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, and being around our guys has helped me be a better teammate.”

Davis will be running behind one of the better offensive lines in the SEC. The Gamecocks return four starters, and senior guard A.J. Cann said blocking for a guy like Davis makes their jobs easier.

“That first hit, he’s not coming down,” Cann said. “Unless you clip him by his ankles, he might fall. But if you go at him up high, I don’t think he’s coming down. He runs angry, and he runs mean.”

The meanest version may be yet to come, although Davis will measure himself by how many games the Gamecocks win next season, and more specifically, whether they can break through and win a first SEC championship.

“If you want to be great, then you’re going to do whatever it takes to help your team win,” Davis said. “It’s not about wowing people, but you do want them to come away saying, ‘Why is he running so hard? He has that extra oomph.’

“That’s how I want to run on every carry.”

SEC's lunchtime links

March, 7, 2014
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Here we are at the end of another week, but thankfully a small taste of football is temporarily returning.

Let's take a look around the SEC as some schools have already opened spring practice and some are preparing for their first workout.

Season report card: South Carolina

February, 6, 2014
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For the third straight season, South Carolina’s report card is a keeper.

OFFENSE: B+

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesConnor Shaw battled injuries all season but helped lead South Carolina to an 11-win season.
Quarterback Connor Shaw was superb during his senior season with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception. He played through injuries and was the quintessential leader for this team. Coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw ranked up there with any quarterback he's ever coached. Shaw had plenty of help, though, with a balanced South Carolina offense that just missed passing for 250 yards per game and rushing for 200 yards per game. They averaged 253.8 passing yards and 198.5 rushing yards. Sophomore running back Mike Davis finished with 1,183 rushing yards, while Bruce Ellington averaged 15.8 yards per catch and had eight touchdown receptions. South Carolina's offensive line proved to be one of the better units in the league, and the Gamecocks were fourth in the SEC in red zone offense. Spurrier's offenses at Florida might have been flashier and put up bigger numbers, but this was an offense that delivered in key situations more times than not.

DEFENSE: B+

Not being able to put teams away was a real problem for South Carolina's defense early in the season, but it's a unit that got better as the season wore on and grew up in key spots, particularly at linebacker, and played its best football down the stretch. South Carolina and Alabama were the only two teams in the SEC to finish in the top 12 nationally in both scoring and total defense. And during its six-game winning streak to close the season, South Carolina's defense didn't allow more than 17 points in regulation in any of the six games. Moreover, the Gamecocks forced 10 turnovers in their last two games, wins over Clemson and Wisconsin. Jadeveon Clowney had an off season in terms of sack numbers, but he still had a huge impact on the way opposing offenses attacked the Gamecocks and opened up a lot of opportunities for tackle Kelcy Quarles, who was third in the SEC with 9.5 sacks. Let's hear it for Lorenzo Ward, too. He's easily one of the more underrated defensive coordinators in the country.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Kudos to freshman walk-on Elliott Fry for coming through at placekicker for the Gamecocks. He made some big kicks in both the Florida and Missouri wins and finished 15-of-18 on the season. Other than Fry, there wasn't much to get excited about on special teams for South Carolina. In fact, the kicking game struggled for much of the season. The Gamecocks finished last in the SEC in net punting (34.1 yards), 12th in punt return average, 11th in kickoff returns and 10th in kickoff coverage. They gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown in the bowl game, allowing Wisconsin to get back in it in the fourth quarter, and simply didn't make much happen on special teams all season.

OVERALL: A-

The only thing that keeps this from being a solid “A” was the inexplicable loss to Tennessee. Spurrier has taken the Gamecocks to unprecedented heights, but that 23-21 loss to the Vols and some of his decision-making in the second half wasn’t his finest hour. Otherwise, the season speaks for itself. South Carolina was the only team in the country to beat three different teams that finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll and won 11 games for the third straight season. Go back and count how many times that’s been done, period, in the SEC. Spurrier has turned South Carolina into a national power, and nobody would have predicted that when the Head Ball Coach took over in Columbia in 2005.

SEC's lunch links

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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The SEC bowl season kicked off Monday with a win by Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The league will now play five bowl games over the next two days so get caught up with the latest news and notes in the last lunch links of 2013.


A drama-filled week for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney appears to be coming to a positive conclusion.

The All-American defensive end is likely to start on Saturday when the No. 14 Gamecocks visit Arkansas, according to South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

Clowney has practiced each of the last two days and is "getting better every day" according to Ward. The 6-foot-6, 274-pound Clowney sat out last week's game against Kentucky with a muscle strain near his ribcage, but his absence sparked questions because of the manner in which he handled it (not notifying the coaching staff he wouldn't play until they arrived at the stadium) as well as the tone of head coach Steve Spurrier's comments on the matter in the immediate aftermath.

Spurrier has since cleared the air and said that everyone involved handled that situation "poorly." He praised Clowney for his contributions to football program since he has been in Columbia, S.C. Clowney has since said that he is fully committed to his South Carolina team and will do everything he can to play.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 28, 2013
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We're just a day away until the first game of the college football season and a few days until the season begins en masse. Here's a look at some of the stories from around the SEC to keep you informed:

Breaking out of Clowney's shadow

August, 27, 2013
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One of the first mistakes a team can make with Jadeveon Clowney is trying to block him one-on-one without any help.

The second mistake is thinking that he’s merely a force of one on South Carolina’s defensive line.

Quarles
Jim Dedmon/Icon SMIKelcy Quarles is out to show that there is more to the South Carolina defense than just Jadeveon Clowney.
“A lot of people around the country know about Jadeveon Clowney, but they’re going to find out that there’s a lot more to our defensive line this season than just one guy,” said junior Kelcy Quarles, one of the interior anchors of a talent-laden South Carolina defensive line.

Sure, No. 7 is the guy who makes it all go, but there’s going to be a race to get to the opposing quarterback this fall in Columbia, and that mad dash starts Thursday night when North Carolina visits Williams-Brice Stadium.

“I love playing beside Clowney and love the way he opens up things for everybody else,” Quarles said. “He’s like a brother, but there are a lot of guys on this defensive line who feel like they’re overlooked. All that’s going to do is give us more fuel to go out there and show what we can do.

“We’ll push each other to see who can get back there the fastest. That’s my kind of race.”

Clowney racked up 13 sacks a year ago to finish second in the SEC. There’s no telling how high he could go this season, and if teams sell out to stop him, senior end Chaz Sutton is sure to make them pay on the other side. And if it’s not Sutton, Quarles and J.T. Surratt make for an imposing duo inside.

The Gamecocks also plan to move Clowney around this season. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward likes his “rabbits” package where Clowney and Sutton shift inside on passing downs with smaller, quicker players manning the end spots. Redshirt freshman Darius English looks to be a natural in that role and is a blur coming off the edge.

“I believe in all those guys,” Clowney said. “I talk to Chaz every day. I tell him that everybody’s going to be looking at me, but that this is his season. It’s the same thing with Kelcy.

“We’re going to be coming every game.”

Ominous words, indeed.

But Clowney has pretty much been unblockable this preseason, and his defensive line mates haven’t been too far behind.

In one of the Gamecocks’ final scrimmages, quarterback Connor Shaw said it was all he could do just to get the shotgun snap.

“I’d catch the snap, and he’d be on top of me in a half-second,” Shaw said. “That’s just how good he is. It’s not like our left tackle (junior Corey Robinson) is bad. Clowney’s just that good. Across the board, we’re strong up front on defense, and that’s just made our offensive line that much better.”

With so much inexperience at linebacker, South Carolina’s defensive line will be counted on to wreak even more havoc than it did a year ago.

Not a problem, said Quarles, who’s bulked up some 20 pounds and plans to play at 305 this season.

He also plans to play his way out of Clowney’s shadow.

“He sets up things for the tackle, but I set up some things for him, too,” said Quarles, who had eight tackles for loss last season. “That’s the way it’s going to be all year. Our mindset is to go out and dominate no matter who’s out there.

“One play, it may be Clowney. The next, it may be me, J.T., Chaz or any of the other guys. They’re going to have a lot more to worry about than just No. 7.”

Ward has reminded Clowney more than once that former South Carolina star defensive end Melvin Ingram (a first-round draft choice in 2012) had most of his sacks when he was lined up inside in the Gamecocks’ “rabbits” package.

“If we put him inside, people will have to figure out how they’re going to block him – one-on-one or are they going to slide their front to him?” Ward said. “It’s easier off the edge because they can have a back chip him or keep a tight end in to get to his side and have one less guy in the route.

“When you keep him inside, he creates more issues.”

Either way, Clowney has a knack for getting to the ball at warp speed, mesmerizing even his teammates.

“They’ll be like, ‘How do you get to the ball so fast?’” Clowney said. “I always tell them, ‘I just have a nose for the ball, know where it’s going to be.’

“It’s like I have a feeling before the play sometimes where it’s going.”

Quarles wouldn’t argue that.

“You can’t really explain it, but I still plan on beating him back there some this year,” Quarles said. “We all do.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive line coach Brad Lawing couldn’t bring Jadeveon Clowney with him when Florida coach Will Muschamp hired him away from South Carolina in January.

But Lawing did bring one of the things that helped Clowney become one of the country’s most feared pass rushers.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp and his defensive staff are tinkering with the rabbits package, in hopes of improving the Gators' D-line pressure.
It’s called the rabbits package, so named because it was designed to get as many speed rushers on the field as possible. Lawing and South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward developed it during spring 2012 and the Gamecocks used it successfully, racking up 40 sacks during the regular season.

Now Lawing, Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin are tinkering with it as the Gators continue their preseason practices.

"Who will that package be?" Muschamp said. "We’re searching for the right guys. We think we have a pretty good handle on who they may be, but you never know. We’ve got to continue to search through those guys and find your best four rushers, and then who’s five, who’s six, who’s seven?"

Even though Florida’s pass rush was better last season than it had been the previous two (the Gators recorded 30 sacks in 2012, the most since it had 40 in 2009), there’s plenty of room to improve. The Gators appear to have the personnel to be better, especially with the return of redshirt junior buck Ronald Powell, and adding the rabbits package will certainly help.

It’s easy to identify UF’s top four pass rushers: Powell, sophomore Dante Fowler Jr., sophomore Jonathan Bullard and senior Dominique Easley. Powell and Fowler are hybrid defensive ends/strongside linebackers. Bullard is an end and Easley can play both end and tackle. The group, which has a combined 16.5 career sacks, are all starters but also will likely comprise the rabbits package, with Easley moving over to nose tackle.

Bullard and Fowler played key roles as freshmen last season, helping pick up the slack in the rush that was created when Powell (seven career sacks) suffered a torn ACL in the spring game and missed the entire season. Bullard led the team with seven quarterback hurries, while Fowler had 2.5 sacks.

Muschamp said Powell has looked very good in camp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said the pass rush has given the offense trouble.

"They’re very athletic," Pease said. "When you have Easley and Bullard and then you throw in Dante. Now Dante, depending how they use him, he’s such a weapon because he’s a down guy, pass rusher, pass coverage guy, very physical, he’s so heavy-handed. He’s a tough kid to block.

"And then when you throw Ronald in there ..."

Muschamp isn’t sure how much he’s going to use the rabbits package. He said the Gators did a solid job with the pass rush last season and the addition of Powell and the maturation and improvement of Fowler and Bullard should automatically make them better.

Plus, Florida plays mostly man coverage and offenses counter that with six- and seven-man protections to give quarterbacks extra time to throw the ball.

"I think we gave up less explosive plays in the passing game than anybody in the country [last season]," Muschamp said. "I think we gave up less touchdowns than [all but four] teams in the country. So I think we were very efficient in the passing game. And that's not just from a coverage standpoint, that's from a rush standpoint."

But it’s nice to have the package available, especially if it allows the Gators to begin to develop younger players like redshirt freshmen Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister.
Schedule: The Gamecocks begin practice at 7:15 p.m. ET on Friday. The first week of practice will be open to the public. The first day for full pads will be Tuesday, Aug. 6. The first two-a-days session will be Aug. 15.

On the mend: Senior quarterback Connor Shaw is returning after missing all of spring following offseason foot surgery. Safety T.J. Gurley missed spring as he recovered from a knee injury, but he should be ready to go for fall camp.

Key battle: The hybrid linebacker/safety "Spur" position has become a staple in South Carolina's defense. With DaVonte Holloman gone, junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs spent the spring vying for the spot. However, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward left spring without a ton of confidence in the position. Golightly enters the fall with the edge, but he's spent his college career primarily playing special teams for the Gamecocks.

Of note: Steve Spurrier enters his ninth season at South Carolina as the Gamecocks' all-time winningest coach with 66 victories. He's already Florida's all-time winningest coach with 122 victories and joins Paul "Bear" Bryant as the only other coach to own the most wins at two SEC schools.

Predicted order of finish at media days: Picked second in the SEC East at SEC media days.

They said it: "Gosh, we hoped last year we'd have a chance and we did have a chance last year. We were just one game away from getting in the [SEC] championship game and were one game away the year before. So we're hoping and believing we gotta chance, but we know we gotta play well, a lot of guys gotta come through. We've got some talented players. We're not going to be favored, but we should be right up in there with the top four or five with a chance, I would think." -- Spurrier
South Carolina Gamecocks

2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 6-2 (third, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 5; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, OT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Victor Hampton, CB Jimmy Legree

Key losses

RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, C T.J. Johnson, DE Delvin Taylor, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, Spur DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Lattimore (662 yards)
Passing: Connor Shaw* (1,956 yards)
Receiving: Bruce Ellington* (600 yards)
Tackles: Shaq Wilson (86)
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney* (13)
Interceptions: Jimmy Legree* and DeVonte Holloman (3)

Spring answers

1. Lattimore’s replacement: It wasn’t going to be easy to replace Marcus Lattimore at the running back spot, but rising sophomore Mike Davis did a heck of a job showing that he has what it takes to be the No. 1 guy at that spot this fall. He left the spring as the starter and during his limited time in the spring game he rushed for 40 yards on two carries, including a 25-yard touchdown. He has all the talent to be a big-time back.

2. Good problem at QB: With Connor Shaw out this spring because of foot surgery, Dylan Thompson took more steps forward in his development. Coach Steve Spurrier has made it clear that there isn’t a quarterback controversy, and that Shaw is the starter, but he has a good problem on his hands with two very quality quarterbacks on his roster. Thompson prepared like the starter this fall and should be more than ready if Shaw goes down again this fall.

3. Clowney’s focus: With “The Hit” taking the world by storm and all of that Heisman hype bombarding South Carolina’s best player, Jadeveon Clowney took everything in stride. He didn’t flinch and talked more about the improvements he’d like to make before fall practice arrives. Clowney is a man on a mission this year (he also might be faster) and he took the proper steps this spring to make sure he's still on track to accomplish his goals for 2013.

Fall questions

1. Receiving help: Ace Sanders’ surprising exit left no seniors at receiver and a big hole to fill. Bruce Ellington is back, which certainly helps, but he’ll need assistance this fall. Rising sophomore Shaq Roland arrived with a ton of hype last year, but didn’t live up to his billing. He made good strides this spring, but he’ll still have to prove himself all over again this fall. The coaches are also hoping Damiere Byrd can turn into a consistent deep threat. Throw in Nick Jones and a couple more youngsters and there are bodies to work with but not a lot of experience.

2. Finding that Spur: Losing DaVonte Holloman was a big hit to this defense. The hybrid linebacker/safety spot is a big piece to what the Gamecocks do on this side of the ball, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward doesn’t have a ton of confidence in the position right now. Junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs battled for the spot this spring, with Golightly having a slight lead heading into the offseason. He’s primarily played special teams at South Carolina.

3. New faces at LB/DB: The Gamecocks will have a lot of new faces to work with at linebacker and in the secondary. They have to replace their entire two-deep at linebacker along with D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste in the secondary. Cornerback Victor Hampton looked like a potential first-round pick at times to coaches this summer and linebackers Kaiwan Lewis and Kelvin Rainey made good strides, but both are learning and there should be growing pains this fall from both positions.
South Carolina will be down some important pieces from last year's 11-2 squad, but the play of a few youngsters this spring could help ease those departures.

Obviously, the loss of Marcus Lattimore affects the Gamecocks on many different levels, and replacing his on-field presence won't be easy. But rising sophomore running back Mike Davis had the kind of spring the coaches were looking for and he left the spring game as South Carolina's starter.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Curtis Wilson/USA TODAY Sports Gamecocks running back Mike Davis earned a starting position from his stellar play during the spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.
"I just wanted to go out separate myself from other people, stand out, and get the starting job," Davis told reporters following South Carolina's annual Garnet & Black Spring Game.

He did just that and the coaches clearly didn't need to see much of him Saturday, as he carried the ball just twice for 40 yards. One of those runs went for a 25-yard touchdown.

Davis isn't Lattimore, but he does have a great combination of speed and strength and really took to the weight room during the offseason. He gained 10 pounds and was able to get faster and stronger in the process.

As the third-string back last fall, Davis rushed for 275 and two touchdowns on 52 carries. Brandon Wilds, who was injured all last season, carried the ball seven times for 31 yards in Saturday's spring game and will still be pushing Davis this fall. He'll also have to deal with the shifty Shon Carson, who has been plagued by injuries during his first two years with the Gamecocks.

"The competition never ends," Davis said about being named the starter this spring.

Staying with the offense, South Carolina coaches were pretty impressed with rising sophomore receiver Shaq Roland, who caught four passes for 44 yards and a 6-yard touchdown. With Ace Sanders' surprising departure to the NFL, the coaches have to find someone to help Bruce Ellington out at receiver. The hope is that Roland can be that guy, and maybe more. He has all the talent to be a real star and was the Gamecocks' top recruit in their 2012 recruiting class.

All that skill never really translated to the field last year, as he battled focus issues. That seems to have changed this spring, as Roland appeared to turn the corner. He still has to bring that same sort of focus into fall practice and the season, but his play this spring really has coaches excited about his potential in 2013.

On the defensive side of the ball, coaches are looking to fill some holes in the secondary, and a good outing from safety Chaz Elder on Saturday was a positive sign for the Gamecocks.

Because of injuries, Elder, who joined Davis and Roland as ESPN 150 members in 2012, learned last minute that he would be starting Saturday. He entered the spring third on the depth chart at free safety, but took advantage of his spring game reps. He recorded three tackles and an interception that he returned 44 yards.

Elder said after Saturday's game that he felt more comfortable on the field this spring, and with T.J. Gurley out for the spring, Elder received a lot more reps. He's understanding checks, formations and schemes better, and the hope is that continues through the fall.

"He had a descent spring," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of Elder. "I would have liked to see him get a little better at the things we do. He made some plays (Saturday) and grew up a little bit (Saturday). I think that will help him in the future. We have high expectations for Chaz and he’s not there yet, but hopefully he will keep working."

It turns out that Jadeveon Clowney isn't invincible after all.

South Carolina's All-American -- and one of the best players in college football -- might deliver tremendous pain on the field, but he's dealing with his own pain and could miss the rest of spring because of neck and back pain, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Tuesday.

“His neck and back is still stiff. Whether he goes another snap [this spring], I don’t care,” Ward said.

It doesn't sound like Clowney's injury is anything too serious, so there's no point in pushing him for the remainder of the spring. Honestly, healthy or not, there's really no reason to put him on the field for the spring game, anyway. It's not worth the potential injury, he doesn't need the extra work and you don't want to risk having your left tackle blown up in front of your home crowd.

Seriously, resting Clowney now is probably a good thing for the Gamecocks. He's on a mission this fall and he'll be worth the wait.

Leader at Spur

With Devonte Holloman graduating after last season, redshirt junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs have spent all spring battling for the starting "Spur" position (hybrid linebacker/safety).

Ward said on Tuesday that Golightly, who has primarily played on special teams and has registered 10 career tackles, is the leader heading into the final three spring practices.

“I think Sharrod is slightly ahead of Jordan Diggs, but it’s real close," Ward said. "They both have done a lot of good things, but I think Sharrod has probably made more plays this spring. If we had to start tomorrow, Sharrod would be the starter.”

The Gamecocks will conclude spring practice with their annual Garnet & Black Spring Game this Saturday.

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