South Carolina, expected to have a beastly pass rush under the leadership of superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, lacked the gusto to attack the quarterback on every play. Now, the Gamecocks pass rush looks like the monster it should have been from Day 1 of the 2013 season.
The South Carolina pass rush took flak all season long, largely due to the talk surrounding Clowney and his so-called struggles. But, say no more.
Sure, Clowney only put up one sack. But, he was disruptive and his teammates also stepped up to string together an excellent performance against rival Clemson.
Earlier this season, teams ran play after play away from Clowney. This essentially took the Clowney factor out of the game and forced other players on the defensive line to make plays. That strategy also led to the idea that the South Carolina pass rush was struggling because Clowney did not have insane statistics.
While there is no denying that the pass rush is a different story now than it was early in the year, maybe the pass rush was actually there all along.
The defense registered 31 hits on the quarterback this season, a fair number. The team also managed to put up 24 sacks on the year with Kelcy Quarles taking the lead as the sack master.
Last season, the Gamecocks only had 21 quarterback hits, but the sack number was a staggering 43. Repeating those stats is, and was, impossible.
Teams started to prepare better and developed the concept of taking Clowney out of games by altering the offense so Clowney could not get involved in any plays.
While the sacks were down, the quarterback hits were not.
Of those 31 quarterback hits, Clowney had eight. So even though he wasn't picking up the sacks, he found a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks and their rhythms.
South Carolina built the pass rush throughout the course of the season, so it didn't just appear out of nowhere. Though, the pass rush's best performance came in the final regular season contest, where the Gamecocks wreaked havoc on Clemson and its star quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Once again, Quarles came to play and tallied 2.5 sacks as he continues to show he can provide a strong pass rush from the interior of the line.
With a scrambling quarterback who is also a great passer, the defense's showing against Clemson was very impressive. Clowney had one sack, but it was the whole defensive unit's productivity that made the pass rush look better than it did all season.
So the pass rush wasn't entirely there early in the season. Fine.
But, boy did it show up down the stretch, especially against Clemson.