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August 30, 2013
Minutes after efficaciously maneuvering the South Carolina defense through a three-hour plus heat sauna against one of the fastest-paced offenses this side of Oregon, Lorenzo Ward sat down at the table in the interview room and swiftly discovered what the No. 1 post-game topic was.
Jadeveon Clowney's conditioning, or lack thereof.
But Ward's response was equally fast - Clowney wasn't the only Gamecock defender worn down by the 95-degree heat and the relentless effort trying to keep North Carolina's hurry-up offense contained.
"I don't think it was just Clowney. The entire defense got winded," Ward reminded the media. "Again, we knew going into the ballgame that they were going to go hurry-up. We tried to simulate it in practice, but that team is the fastest team I've ever seen."
Because of the heat (temperatures surpassed 95 degrees at kickoff), Ward eyed running a lot of players into the game, and that's exactly what happened. Players rotated at all positions, including Clowney, who was affected by a stomach virus and lack of sleep.
"We planned to play a lot of guys, especially up front," Ward said. "Of course, Coach (Kirk) Botkin was going to rotate the young linebackers, but we knew it was going to be a hot game and we knew we were going to need a lot of people to play for us. You can't really prepare unless you coach on the same team of an offense that runs at a tempo like that.
"It was hot and humid, but it was hot and humid for them also. That's the way they practice. Coach (Deke) Adams and Coach (Grady) Brown told us that. They've been on his (Larry Fedora's) staff. They play that way every day. Obviously, they were used to it."
Bouncing in and out of the game, Clowney finished with three tackles and three quarterback hurries, numbers that didn't match the pregame hype.
"Everybody always expects a lot from J.D. and he expects it from himself," Ward said. "We'll go back and evaluate him. I told him that he might have to watch what he's eating if his energy is down. There are things he can do to make sure than when we play teams like this that we can play him more than three, four or five plays in a row at a time."
In the closing minutes, Clowney was chop blocked from behind by a UNC offensive lineman in a glaring dirty play.
"I didn't see it, but I'm glad the officials saw it and called it," Ward said.
All the attention on Clowney masked an otherwise conscientious performance by a USC defense that limited UNC's high-tempo attack to 10 points and 293 yards of total offense on 79 plays. North Carolina averaged 40.6 points per game in 2012.
The Tar Heels enjoyed a few rays of sunshine, but for the most part USC rained down depth, a lengthy list of players capable of performing at a high level, and stopped UNC short of the end zone twice on goal-line stands.
"We're pleased. They snapped the ball 79 times and they had 10 points," Ward said. "This was a team that averaged 40 points a ballgame last year with a veteran quarterback coming back. The way we had the goal-line stands a couple of times, the guys had to dig deep. We have a lot we can work on, but there are some positive things we can take from it."
While Missouri and Clemson await on the schedule, Ward is thankful USC won't play another team with a tempo to match UNC.
"I don't think we'll play another team that goes as fast, though we will play some fast teams," Ward said. "This team will prepare us for any team that wants to go fast."
Diversity punctuated the defense chart as the top nine tacklers consisted of two true freshmen (Skai Moore and Kelsey Griffin), one redshirt freshman (T.J. Holloman), one sophomore (T.J. Gurley), one redshirt sophomore (Marcquis Roberts), two redshirt juniors (Sharrod Golightly and Victor Hampton) and two seniors (Jimmy Legree and Chaz Sutton).
"We have a lot of good football players on defense," Ward said. "We played a lot of young guys. We feel we have good coaches that prepare them to play. We have 85 scholarships and they pay us to go out and recruit young men that can play. The days when you redshirt kids are over, especially when you play against all these spread offenses to make sure you can match up."
Moore, playing in his first college game, tied for second on the team with six tackles, while Griffin, a highly recruited defensive tackle from Buford, Ga., had four stops and a half sack.
"The game was so quick and fast, that it's hard to evaluate," Ward said. "But it was good to see those young guys out there playing in a high-tempo game like this. We're definitely evaluate them in the morning (Friday) and we'll see how well they did when we watch the video. I didn't see anything glaring in the ballgame.
"They had 99 yards rushing, so obviously we played fairly well."
Together, those nine defenders accounted for 63.5 percent of the tackles made by the Gamecocks. Clowney finished with three tackles and three quarterback hurries, while impressive redshirt freshman Darius English had two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Buried underneath the pile of hysterics concerning Clowney and conditioning was the fact starting strong safety Kadetrix Marcus suffered a dislocated shoulder and is expected to be sidelined for several weeks.
As a result, Gurley, a Cairo, Ga., native that had a team-high nine tackles in the season-opening win over UNC, should make his first career start at strong safety at Georgia next Saturday with redshirt freshman Chaz Elder, another Peach State resident, serving as the backup.
"Right now, T.J. Gurley and Chaz Elder will both play the boundary safety spot," Ward said.
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