South Carolina Football: Defensive Play Is Key to Gamecocks Winning the East

Adam Garrett@lifeofagamecockAnalyst IJune 15, 2012

South Carolina Football: Defensive Play Is Key to Gamecocks Winning the East

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    As they say, defense wins championships. 

    South Carolina heads into the 2012 season with one of the best returning defenses in the nation thanks to players like Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and D.J. Swearinger. South Carolina finished third in the nation last season in total defense with an average of 267.69 yards allowed per game. 

    That's an impressive number. 

    The Gamecocks lose defensive stalwarts like Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore and Travian Robertson but there is plenty of talent ready to step up and make their mark this season. 

    These are a few reasons as to why the Gamecocks' defensive play is key to winning the SEC East.

No. 1: Creating Turnovers Gives Offense Opportunities

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    Last year, South Carolina tied for sixth in the country in interceptions with 19 and seventh in the country in turnovers gained with 32. 

    It's safe to say the Gamecocks created plenty of turnovers giving their offense a chance to get back on the field for points. 

    Turnovers can give a team a huge momentum swing in a football game. South Carolina did really well in giving their offense as many opportunities as possible last season by coming up with a big interception or fumble recovery. 

    A veteran defense should be able to continue this momentum from last season and keep the turnover numbers high for the Gamecock defense. Big hitters like DeVonte Holloman and D.J. Swearinger should be able to give the secondary a boost as they look to fill the shoes of Antonio Allen, who exhausted his eligibility after the 2011 season. 

    Creating turnovers is a must in the SEC. You have to afford yourself your own opportunities against some great SEC teams. The Gamecocks will look for a repeat of the success in the turnover department from 2011. 

No. 2: Quarterback Pressure from One of the Top DE Duo in the Country

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    The names Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor should give opposing SEC offenses nightmares this upcoming season. 

    Both players are incredible athletes that combine power, speed and agility off the edge that most offensive lineman can't handle. Their long frame give them a chance to knock down the pass attempt and also reach out to grab an opposing running back from getting to the next level. 

    These two players should dominate in the pass-rush department this season. Taylor had a phenomenal season in 2010 only to have a somewhat disappointing 2011 season. He started off slow but picked up his play towards the end of the season. He's fighting for the chance at a high draft pick in the NFL draft and his play this year should be helped by his teammate Clowney. 

    Clowney burst onto the scene with eight sacks and five forced fumbles to earn All-Freshman honors. He showcased a lot of the hype that he brought with him from high school but the coaching staff knows he can bring more to the table. He's expected to fill the role that's left open from the graduation of Melvin Ingram. He spent last year getting by on athletic ability alone. This year, he knows the defense. 

    These two players on the field at the same time will be hard to block. Teams can't focus on one player because the other is capable of taking over the game on defense. The two combined for 14 of the Gamecocks' 31 sacks last season, but look for that number to rise this year. 

    Quarterback pressure is a must in this conference. South Carolina has the players at defense end to make it happen. 

No. 3: Continue Strong Pass Defense

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    South Carolina has made a name for itself over the past decade as "Defensive Back University."

    Names like Dunta Robinson, Sheldon Brown and Jonathan Joseph have all had successful careers in the NFL with recent draftee Stephon Gilmore heading to the Bills in the Top 10 of the 2012 NFL draft. 

    This past season was no different as the Gamecocks had the second best pass defense in the country behind national champion Alabama. South Carolina only allowed 131.69 yards per game on average. It's an impressive number in a conference expected to see an increase in quarterback play this season. 

    As mentioned in an earlier slide, the 19 interceptions by the Gamecocks were some of the best in the country. They've continued to reload new players year in and year out and been able to continue the strong secondary play. 

    This year, they'll return experienced players D.J. Swearinger, DeVonte Holloman, Victor Hampton and Akeem Auguste in four of the five defensive back positions for the Gamecocks. The strong safety position is expected to be manned by talented sophomore Brison Williams. 

    These players all add value in different aspects. Players like Holloman and Swearinger are big-hitters who are good in run support while Hampton and Auguste have the ability to be lock-down corners for the Gamecocks. 

    The cohesiveness of this unit will be key for the Gamecocks' defense success. They'll face tough opposition in quarterbacks like Aaron Murray, Tyler Wilson, Tajh Boyd and Tyler Bray. These guys can put up big numbers in a heartbeat. 

    It's crucial for USC's secondary to build on last season's numbers to ensure that this defense is one of the best in the country. 

No. 4: Make the Big Play When It Matters

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    There were a few moments last season for the Gamecocks that really gave the Gamecocks the edge over their opponents. 

    One of those moments was the forced fumble by Jadeveon Clowney that was picked up by Melvin Ingram and returned for a touchdown in the Georgia game. It was a crucial moment in the game when the Gamecocks as they were only up three points at the time when Georgia had the ball.

    The touchdown gave USC a nice 10-point edge that ended up be just enough as UGA cut the score to three, but South Carolina prevailed 45-42. Without that big play, South Carolina could have lost that game and possibly caused a different outlook in 2011. 

    The same could be said for D.J. Swearinger's interception at Tennessee. South Carolina started off the second half with a 7-3 lead over the Volunteers. Neither offense was doing much as this point and USC's first possession ended in an interception by Connor Shaw that was returned to the Gamecocks' two-yard line. 

    Tennessee looked poised to take over this game but Swearinger's interception at the two-yard line gave the Gamecocks the ball back and USC would run off a 20-play drive that resulted in a touchdown to end Tennessee's hope of an upset. 

    Both moments were big plays for the Gamecocks' defense. They couldn't have come at a better time. USC answered the call when it needed to the most. 

    Great players step up and make great plays when their backs are on the line. Look for these experienced Gamecock defenders to step up, once again, and help USC towards a strong 2012 season.