Almost universally, the South Carolina football team has only been good when it has a good defense. From the era of the Southern Conference into the ACC, from the Independent ’70s and ’80s to the SEC years, Gamecock football success has often hinged upon whether or not the garnet and black defense could carry the load. But which South Carolina defenses were the best defenses to come through Columbia?
1925: 1925 was a different era of football than fans are used to today, but the fact that the Gamecock defense allowed under three points per game was special nonetheless. The most impressive showings came in a 33-0 rout of the rival Clemson Tigers and another 33-0 win over Erskine in which the Gamecocks held the Flying Fleet without a first down.
1956: The sixth-best scoring defense of the 1956 football season belonged to the Gamecocks. Carolina gave up 67 points on the entire year, but, unfortunately, the offense wasn’t great as head coach Warren Giese’s team lost three games despite never surrendering more than 14 points in a contest. At Williams-Brice Stadium (then known as Carolina Stadium), the garnet and black defense only allowed 20 points over 5 games.
1969: The ACC Champion Gamecocks were a good football team who had one of the league’s best defensive units. South Carolina football gave up just ten points per game in ACC play that year, and the defensive effort was one of the main reasons why the team went an undefeated 6-0 to win the conference. All-time great Gamecock defensive back Dickie Harris began his All-American career that season as one of the first players to start for the team immediately.
1976: After a stretch of awful defenses earlier in the ’70s, the 1976 unit was very good. In one of the program’s first years as an Independent, the Gamecocks gave up just 13 points per game and under 100 yards passing. Rick Sanford and Lance Garrett were standouts for a defense that held six of its opponents to 10 points or less, the only time that feat was accomplished since the 1950s.
1980: A season most known for the dominance of Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, the 1980 Gamecocks also had a good defense. The unit was captained by linebacker Ed Baxley and saw young players like Andrew Provence, JD Fuller, Mike Durrah, and Phil Ellis show their potential as future stars for the Gamecocks.
1988: The second iteration of the “Black Death” defense, the 1988 team held opponents to 18 points per game on the backs of six All-South Independent selections. the ’88 team was not quite as good as its ’87 counterpart, but Joe Morrison’s final season (1988) matched his penultimate one (1987) in wins with 8. It was the second time in school history that the Gamecocks won 8 games in back-to-back seasons, and the defensive play was the driving factor.
1993: Sparky Woods’ only good defense during his run as head coach of the Gamecocks, the 1993 group allowed less than 20 points per contest, a number that would have been even better without the embarrassing 55-3 waxing the Gamecocks endured at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers. Carolina gave up just 14 points per game the rest of the season and put several players in the NFL.
2006: Steve Spurrier’s second year in Columba is an underrated season in Gamecock history. Many remember the offense as Spurrier rode a two-quarterback system (and the dynamic duo of Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley at receiver) to 8 wins, but the defense was stout. Jasper Brinkley was one of the best linebackers in the SEC, and players like Emanuel Cook, Captain Munnerlyn, and Eric Norwood established themselves as future stars for the program. The D gave up less than 20 points per game and threw their last SEC shutout (a 15-0 win over Mississippi State) that year.
2010: The 2010 defense was up-and-down, but the Gamecocks had some big moments in pivotal games. The defense was very good in the team’s upset of #1 Alabama, and Carolina gave up a combined 27 points in big wins against Georgia, at Clemson, and on the road against Florida, the game that clinched the SEC East championship. The roster was also littered with All-SEC talent on the defensive side of the ball as eleven defensive contributors from the 2010 season made at least one All-Conference team during their careers.