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September 13, 2013

Insider roundtable

In this special feature, Gamecock Central's football insiders answer five questions about the Gamecocks.

1. The South Carolina defense gave up 41 points and 538 total yards last week in the loss to Georgia. What was the biggest concern about the unit in the game? What are some concerns you have about the unit going forward?

JOSH LOW: If you listened to the coaches and players after the game and this week talk about it, then it sounds like communication was a major issue. They have talked about having guys out of position during the game and that is obviously a big concern when you are going up against an offense like Georgia has. My opinion from watching the game a couple times, I think leadership is the biggest concern going forward. There are no leaders on this defense and I'm not sure who would step up in that role. I know there is a lot of youth in this unit, but the older guys are the ones that need to step up make plays, and I'm not talking about Jadeveon Clowney. The older guys with all of the experience need to start making plays.

RON AIKEN: Right now, listening to the defensive players and coaches describe what happened, it's a coaching issue having to do with alignments and getting signals and personnel in quickly and effectively. It seemed like the Gamecocks played on their heels the entire game on defense and never forced tempo as they did a year ago in Columbia. Better coaching, quicker signalling and focused preparation have to happen.

CHRIS CLARK: I figured Georgia would be able to move the ball and put up some points at home with the talent that group has, but nobody expected 41 points to be surrendered by the Gamecock defense. Up front, USC was not consistent in being able to stop the run. The youth of the linebackers showed up against a solid O-line and two of the most talented running backs in the country. The secondary had some key busts, including a pair of breakdowns on plays in which Aaron Murray scrambled out of the pocket. The entire group struggled at times tackling. I was surprised by South Carolina's game plan as well. I thought the secondary would try to be more physical with Georgia's receivers and run more stunts and slants up front to try to confuse the Georgia line. Coaches and players talked after the game about communication, so perhaps that was a big part of the problem.

2. There has been talk about some changes being made to the defense after the loss. Do you think changes will be made and what changes do you think should be made on this defense?

JOSH LOW: I don't think you will see a dramatic change as far as personnel goes unless Kadetrix Marcus or Cedrick Cooper get back healthy. The changes will probably be in how they get plays in. The communication has to be better, definitely when Vanderbilt tries to go to the hurry up. I do think Clowney needs to be moved around more. I'm not saying put him in a different spot every play because he is at his best coming off the edge. Another change I would make would be more press coverage from the secondary. I think that plays to their strength a lot more. Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton are physical corners that have good breaks on the ball.

RON AIKEN: Forget what year people are and find who can play and who can lead. A lack of leadership on defense right now seems glaring; Kaiwan Lewis talked about it Tuesday and Kelcy Quarles talked about it Tuesday. Both said before, D.J. Swearinger was the guy who led the defense, not just in terms of swagger and big plays and hits but in fundamentals, in alignments and in knowing where everyone is supposed to be on the field at all times. I don't feel like that person is on the field right now, and I'm not sure who it is...my only guess would be Cedrick Cooper by virtue of his having been around, and if he's healthy enough and ready to play this weekend, I think you have to see what he can do right now.

CHRIS CLARK: The biggest change will probably need to be on the aforementioned communication front. If the coaches on the sideline and players on the field are not on the same page, it will be more difficult for everyone to succeed. What the solution is I'm not sure, but that is clearly something that the team will be working on going forward. Schematically, USC probably needs to move Jadeveon Clowney around more, give some different looks/blitzes with the front seven and put the cornerbacks in position to do what they do best which is play physical and tight coverage. Some of the issues, such as mental mistakes by young linebackers, tackling are things that could be harder to correct long-term but could get better as the season unfolds.

3. There has been a lot of talk on the message boards about the South Carolina quarterbacks. Should there be a debate about which quarterback should be the starter? Should the snaps be divided between Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson?

JOSH LOW: There shouldn't be any debate about who the starting quarterback is. The starter is Connor Shaw and he gives South Carolina the best chance to win. He will be the starter for the rest of the season unless he gets hurt. That doesn't mean Dylan Thompson doesn't have a role on this team. If Shaw struggles in a game, then I'm sure Steve Spurrier won't hesitate to go to Thompson. There could be certain situations that Thompson could go in the game. I still think Shaw should take the majority of the snaps at quarterback.

RON AIKEN: Connor Shaw is the starter and he's earned it. But there should be a package utilized for Thompson every game. The reason Thompson is so much better a passer than Shaw isn't because his arm is that much better -- it's a clear improvement, but not light years -- it's because he stays in the pocket long enough for Steve Spurrier's offense to develop downfield. Shaw routinely does not do that. I think the only way you get it through his noggin at this point in his career is to take him out when he does this and put in Thompson for a bit. It's a luxury to have, so why not use it? The reason the tight ends haven't been thrown to isn't because Spurrier hasn't wanted to use them. It's because Shaw hasn't waited long enough for their routes to progress and simply isn't throwing it to them. Believe me, they'd be happy to catch it if the ball came toward them.

CHRIS CLARK: Shaw played very well at Georgia and everyone around the program, plus the folks that coach him day in and day out believe so as well. He had a key fumble, sure, but it came on a fourth-down scramble that most quarterbacks would not have been able to pick up in the first place. He sometimes takes off running too early before delivering the football, true but he also stood in the pocket and made some great throws on Saturday. I'm honestly baffled by the fact that some Gamecock fans are not behind Shaw who has a great record as a starter. Does he have a big road win? No, but he and his offense played well enough to get one on Saturday had the defense showed up and played some ball. Dylan Thompson is also a good quarterback and is the best pocket passer on the team with some deceptive athleticism. There is a role for him on the team and he will help the team at some point this season, but I do not believe there should be a controversy as far as who starts.

4. South Carolina running back Mike Davis has made a big splash on the SEC in his first two games this season going for over 100 yards rushing in each. How impressive has he been and do you think he can keep this pace over the whole season?

JOSH LOW: Davis has been great, but a lot of people predicted this. There were a lot of signs that pointed to Davis having a breakout year. He showed the flashes last season in his limited action and he had a great fall. I do think he will continue to have success. I think he should get more carries and the offensive gameplan should be centered more on him. He has showed that he can do it all as a running back. It is time for him to take on the full load.

RON AIKEN: Simple: Very impressive, and yes, I think he can keep it going over the whole season. I like everything I've seen about Mike Davis this season and believe he should clearly be the featured back, with Wilds coming in to rest him rather than the two splitting carries evenly.

CHRIS CLARK: He's been outstanding. Not everyone carries over strong spring or preseason performances to the field but Davis has. He showed flashes of it last season, and then he looked great before the season started. He's got a great combination of vision, speed, and power and just runs with such a violent style. I do not think it's fair for him to be expected to produce a 75-yard run every game and average nine yards a carry the remainder of the season, but I could see several more 100-yard performances in his future. He's definitely a candidate to be an All-SEC player at the end of the season.

5. How do you expect South Carolina to respond this weekend against Vanderbilt coming off a tough SEC East loss to Georgia?

JOSH LOW: I wouldn't be surprised if they come out a little sluggish. I don't think they will blow Vanderbilt out or anything like that. I think it will be pretty close and South Carolina will win by one or two touchdowns. The South Carolina offense has never put up a lot of points against Vanderbilt's defense. This seems to be a much better Gamecock offense so it will be interesting to see how they perform Saturday night. I think the biggest thing to watch will obviously be the Gamecock defense.

RON AIKEN: I don't think South Carolina overlooks Vandy at all. I think they come out angry and play like it. When the clock hit zero in Athens it meant one thing and one thing only: bad news for Vandy.

CHRIS CLARK: It's not going to be an easy test, that's for sure. I do believe South Carolina will rebound with a win and what would be best for the program would be to come out and look good in all three phases of the game to build confidence for the rest of the season. Vanderbilt has an experienced defense with a smart coordinator and some good players and the offense definitely has some weapons, including one of the nation's best receivers in Jordan Matthews. To me, the key is how USC's defense is going to respond. I don't expect them to blow the doors off of Vandy, but I do think at home that group will have a better effort than it did in Athens.

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