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January 24, 2012

Ward wants to be a little different

Even though Lorenzo Ward called the defensive plays from the Florida Citrus Bowl coaches' box during the convincing Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska, he prefers to be on the sidelines during a game.

That way, he says, he can look his players in the eye when he is talking to them to determine if they're focused on the task at hand.

So, when the 2012 season starts on Aug. 30, expect Ward to take a different approach from his predecessor, Ellis Johnson, who liked to supervise the game from high above the playing field.

"I've definitely figured out I won't be in the booth this year," Ward said Monday night on the Inside the Roost program. "I definitely want to call it from the sideline. I like to look into the player's eyes and I think they feed off your emotions. I want to be down there and hopefully we can continue to get them motivated to play well."

With Ward on the sidelines, defensive assistants Jeep Hunter (spurs) and Kirk Botkin (linebackers) will head upstairs for the big picture view.

Ward's preference for an up-close-and-personal approach during games likely won't be the only aspect that separates him from Johnson. Monday night, Ward reiterated Botkin's comments late last week to 107.5 FM The Game that he would be more aggressive in his defensive philosophy.

"My mentality is a little more aggressive than Coach Johnson was," Ward said. "But he didn't have to do a lot of blitzing because he had four guys (on the defensive line) who could get to the passer. Hopefully, we'll have four guys who can get to the passer. If you can get pressure with four (defenders), you can do a lot more things with seven guys in coverage.

"I like to try to dictate (tempo) and one way to do that is to make sure the offense understands that. We're going to come after the quarterback a little bit more."

USC returns five bowl game starters from a defense that ranked third in total defense nationally (267.7 yards per game) behind Alabama and LSU. However, several defenders figuring prominently into Ward's plans for 2012 didn't start the bowl game, including DE Jadeveon Clowney, MLB Shaq Wilson, OLB Quin Smith and CB Victor Hampton.

During the season, Ward was typically assigned the task of deciding the best pass coverages for stopping the opposing team's offense.

"Coach Johnson and I had a great working relationship," Ward said. "Coach Johnson always came to me about the pass coverages I thought would be good, and he usually incorporated them into the game plan. We talked about pass coverages a lot. There were times when Coach Johnson relied on me during ballgames and asked me what I wanted to do in a certain situation. I like to think I was very involved in the game planning and play calling."

During the early stages of the Capital One Bowl, Ward had to settle into calling the defensive plays for the first time since his days as defensive coordinator at UT-Chattanooga in the late 1990s. USC blanked Nebraska over the final 48:33 of the contest, and held the Huskers to 64 total yards in the second half.

"I felt comfortable because any time you have a month to prepare, you should feel comfortable calling the defenses," Ward said. "Early in the game, you could tell the guys were a little unsettled and that was probably my fault. I was trying to get the perfect call in. But there is no such thing as the perfect call. When you put a group of players like we have on the field, you have to trust their abilities and give them a call.

"Travian (Robertson) told me sometime during the second series, 'Coach, just give us the call and we'll execute it.' I told him I would get the plays in quickly and that's what I started doing and they started to play. The guys responded well and I appreciate the way they played."

His desire for a more attacking style of defense is a principal reason Ward hired Botkin, he said, adding Botkin's intense coaching style should quickly win converts among the players just like a coach already on the Gamecock staff has done.

"Kirk has a personality that is very similar to mine," Ward said. "He will relate very well to the players. They will feed off his emotion. I like to describe him as a coach whose mentality is a little like Shawn Elliott. He is real upbeat and very fiery. The players will feed off that. Sitting with him in the meeting room for a year at Arkansas and seeing what he brought to the table, and the things he had learned over the years really helped us on defense. It was easy for me to recommend him to Coach (Steve) Spurrier to be hired."

Ward said a family situation (declining health of father-in-law) led Botkin to move his family to Texarkana, Texas, for two years in 2010-2011. While there, he was able to secure a job on the Texas High School coaching staff.

With three changes on the coaching staff in recent weeks, Ward has reassured numerous prospects along the recruiting trail that the Gamecocks are back to 100 percent and looking ahead to the 2012 season.

"We want to make sure the guys we're recruiting understand who their position coach is going to be," Ward said. "It's been a little hectic, but we've handled it well. Coach Spurrier has done a great job of getting guys in here that we recommended to him and getting them aboard."

With the start of spring practice 49 days away, Ward looks ahead to the 2012 campaign with optimism considering the number of players USC has returning on both sides of the ball.

"We feel good about this upcoming season," Ward said. "It's exciting how we finished the season. It makes you want to get back and play again. Sometimes, when you lose your bowl game, it kind of drags on and you worry about spring practice."

USC will have no such concerns in 2012.

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D. McCallum

South Carolina NEWS


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