College Sports

Gamecocks secondary takes the blame for ‘Bama performance. What it has to fix

The stats made it clear, and coach Will Muschamp confirmed it during his Sunday teleconference — South Carolina’s defensive backs struggled mightily against Alabama.

Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski passed the ball well. The Gamecock running game was solid. The defensive line mostly held the Crimson’s Tide rushers in check. But ‘Bama QB Tua Tagovailoa passed for 444 yards and five touchdowns, tying or exceeding his career bests in both categories, and Carolina lost, 47-23.

“We’re disappointed in ourselves. As a competitor, you never want a game like that to be solely on you. And it’s tough to say, but it was,” sophomore cornerback Jaycee Horn said.

“ ... Little plays turned into big plays, you know, they took a couple slants to the house and that’s mostly on the secondary, like coach said. We did a good job of stopping the run game, offense did a pretty decent job. You got to pick it up in the secondary, that’s the bottom line.”

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell also exposed some flaws in USC’s secondary in Week 1, and the Gamecocks currently rank second-to-last in the SEC in passing defense. Now, as South Carolina prepares to face a Missouri team that likes to throw the ball, the defensive backs know they have to improve, quickly.

“I don’t think we played good by any standards. Obviously we gotta step it up, we gotta tackle better, we gotta cover better, pay attention to the details, focus on alignment and technique better,” senior safety J.T. Ibe said.

“Honestly, we all underplayed ourselves. Eye control was a big one, tackling was huge, and just winning our one-on-ones.”

Problems with tackling were a common complaint from fans after Alabama managed to generate 15 chunk plays against USC, but both Muschamp and sophomore cornerback Israel Mukuamu mentioned others issues as crucial to improve upon this week.

“Just effort, better eyes and technique, just executing the calls,” Mukuamu said. “Sometimes we were just looking at the quarterback instead of the receivers, so just focusing on the receivers and going out there and playing what we see.”

Still, tackling, or a failure to do so, will always be a major concern for Muschamp. It’s a problem that got plenty of attention in 2018 as South Carolina’s battered defense limped to the end of the season, and it’s already come back to haunt the Gamecocks twice this season.

But Muschamp pushed back slightly on the idea that it would be any bigger of an emphasis heading into the Mizzou game.

“Really, in the big picture, we had about 11 missed tackles for (Alabama). There were some really good players out there that we were missing on. So again, we’re going to continue to coach, and we need to bring our feet, we need to quit worrying about trying to get the ball off people and secure tackles and then try to get the ball off people. And that’s something that’s not just being coached this week, it’s been coached for a long time,” Muschamp said.

“But players have to make ... snapshot decisions on game day. And sometimes it’s easy to be critical of a player in a situation when you’re going up against an elite player and trying to get him on the ground. So we’ll continue to coach it.”

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.
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