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September 27, 2012
'More traditional' Kentucky awaits USC's D
Yes, Lorenzo Ward was familiar.
"Remember? I just saw it!," Ward said on Thursday, referring to the 2010 South Carolina-Kentucky meltdown. "It was on Classic Sports when I came out of the locker room!"
Perhaps it's just as well - it served as a reminder to Ward that that loss, while it didn't hurt the Gamecocks in the long run, is still a stinging memory.
The 31-28 meltdown, where the Gamecocks had led 28-10 in the third quarter, gave Kentucky its only victory over coach Steve Spurrier and broke a 10-game USC winning streak in the series. Ward, then on the sidelines as a defensive assistant, is still befuddled on what exactly went wrong.
"They had a 12, 13, 14-play drive on (offense)," Ward said. "We can't let that happen. We've got to get off the field. We've got to finish."
Especially with Ward now in charge of the Gamecocks' D, and doing quite well in his first four games despite playing a variety of different offenses. Ward wasn't saying that his team would definitely whip the Wildcats on Saturday, but he did say that he was relieved to be playing a more traditional, non-gimmicky offense for a change.
"Kentucky's going to run its offense. Kentucky quarterbacks have only been sacked four times in four games," Ward said. "They'll run the offense. They'll take the ball downfield."
Vanderbilt was a traditional offense, but USC's defense managed to shut it down. East Carolina and Missouri were dink-and-dunk teams, living on the short pass, while UAB liked to throw deep and often.
The Wildcats are capable of throwing deep with sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, who is expected to start but has a nagging shoulder injury. They also like to run the ball, with tailbacks Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders helping Kentucky to 159 rushing yards as a team in a 38-0 loss to Florida last week.
Ward's plan going into the season was to anchor everything around his defensive front, and it has responded despite only having two of four games where he could expect to get great results from the pass-rush. "I'm sure going to call the game to put pressure on quarterbacks, whether we're getting to them and sacking them or whether we're forcing them to throw the ball quicker," Ward said. "It just happened that when teams like Missouri or East Carolina spread you out, dink and dunk you, there's no need to bring pressure. You're wasting yourself."
Even with that, the Gamecocks' Jadeveon Clowney has already recorded 4.5 sacks, a feat that had Kentucky coach Joker Phillips stunned earlier this week. "The NCAA ought to issue every team two of him," Phillips said. Backup defensive end Chaz Sutton has three sacks while USC has 15 as a team.
If Kentucky wants to run, Ward feels confident that his line can stop the Wildcats. If they want to sit back and try to find room to throw, he also feels confident that his blitzing can disrupt it, and his secondary, now fully intact, can shut it down.
D.J. Swearinger returns after a one-game suspension and will play the entire game. Akeem Auguste, held to just one game over the past 17 due to recurring injuries, is also healthy and is set to play 15 to 18 snaps as a backup to corner Jimmy Legree.
Spur DeVonte Holloman, playing solidly but without many statistics to show for it, is also set to have a big game. Ward feels that playing an offense like Kentucky frees Holloman to showcase his ball-hawking skills, instead of chasing down to assist with a tackle when the linebackers are covering short routes.
The game two years ago sticks, but Ward knows that it's history. USC has something to prove, all right, but it's far more about keeping a glittering 4-0 start going instead of revenge for a game in 2010.
"I get excited about it, no matter who we play, and whatever style of offense," Ward said. "The good thing about it, we're being prepared for a lot of different situations that could happen in the future. We've seen spread offenses, now we're going to see some two-back offenses with Kentucky, some two-back offenses with LSU.
"If we can handle all those phases, then we've got a chance to be a decent defense."
* USC will wear white jerseys and garnet pants for the game.
* With Swearinger back, T.J. Gurley has moved back to backup safety behind Brison Williams, and Kadetrix Marcus is behind Swearinger.