Gamecocks Defense – Coaching or Inexperience?


With the Gamecocks losing their 4th game and defense now dead last in the SEC, the questions and criticism are starting to come hard and fast but what really is the issue with the Gamecocks defense – coaching or inexperience?  Lorenzo Ward was applauded for the defense he put together and coached the past few years, and many of those players have gone on to start on Sundays in the NFL.  This year, however, has been much different, and all of the games that South Carolina has lost could be attributed to poor defense.  The question though is Coach Ward and his staff really to blame for what’s going on, or is it largely due to the inexperience of the defense?  Let’s look at the players and see if it makes any more sense.

Out of 32 defensive players, look at the makeup of this South Carolina team:

  • 8 freshman (including 6 true freshman) – 25%
  • 13 sophomores (including 3 true sophomores) – 41%
  • 6 juniors – 18%
  • 5 seniors – 16%
  • 66% underclass (many of whom start)
  • 34% upperclass

That means that two-thirds of the defense are freshman or sophomores, and many of those guys are out on the field at the same time.  I have seen many a play where I’ve counted 5 of those true freshman on the field at the same time.  So let’s take a look at some of the other top teams in the SEC, and how their defenses look along the same lines.  Are the Gamecocks just like everyone else?


  • 2 freshman – 9% +5 sophomores- 23% = 32% underclass
  • 8 junior – 36% + 7 seniors – 32% = 68% upperclass


  • 6 freshmen (mostly third string) – 19% + 12 sophomores – 38% = 57% underclass
  • 9 juniors – 28% + 5 seniors – 16% = 43% upperclass

Mississippi St

  • 0 freshman – 0% + 9 sophomores – 38% = 38% underclass
  • 6 juniors – 24% + 9 senior – 38% = 62% upperclass

Ole Miss

  • 6 freshman (all 2nd/3rd string) – 22% + 5 sophomores – 18% = 40% underclass
  • 8 juniors – 30% + 8 seniors – 30% = 60% upperclass


  • 10 freshman (7 of which are third string) – 32% + 8 sophomores – 26% = 58% underclass
  • 9 juniors – 29% + 4 seniors – 13% = 52% upperclass


7 freshman – 30% + 5 sophomores – 22% = 52% underclass

4 juniors – 17% + 7 seniors – 31% = 48% upperclass

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So as we can see, South Carolina has a disproportionate number of underclass players compared to many of the other big SEC schools.  Not only do they have more, but these guys are playing a ton.  How many times have you seen #31 Al Harris Jr., #4 Bryson-Allen Williams, #3 Chris Lammons, or #24 DJ Smith been out on the field?  They’ve all started, and sometimes all together.  They’re all great players, but they’re young and true freshman.  Even some of the teams who have quite a few, those guys aren’t playing as much, or starting for sure.  Georgia definitely had issues early in the season when some players were out, and look what happened.  Now that those guys are back, Georgia seems unstoppable.

Look, I get it, we all want someone to blame when things are going bad.  But let’s be realistic – with that many new guys playing on defense together, how are they expected to gel together and really use that synergy of knowing each other, let alone knowing their own positions in just a few games?  Have you ever worked anywhere that you’ve hired a bunch of people at the same time?  Do they just jump in and give the same level of service as the experienced guys?  Or do they make more mistakes, take longer to figure some things out that come natural to others, and just don’t seem to anticipate things like the guys who’ve been around for a while do?  Why would it be any different here?  Coach Ward is a defensive coordinator, not a miracle worker.

I’m sure this is an unpopular stance right now, but I’ve been at work when we’ve hired a ton of new people.  I’ve also been the person responsible for getting them trained and up to speed.  No matter how good they were, or how much I tried to move things along faster, they were never up to speed with everyone else, and it hurt the performance of the team overall.  I say let’s show some support for Coach Ward and all he’s done the past few seasons, and think about how great this defense might be next year once they’ve had some time together and more experience.