South Carolina Football Offseason Autopsy, Part 2: Grading the Defense

South Carolina football defensive back Nick Emmanwori had a huge day on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports Kentucky
South Carolina football defensive back Nick Emmanwori had a huge day on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports Kentucky /
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South Carolina Football
South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer has some coaching personnel decisions to make this offseason. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina Football Offseason Autopsy:
Grading the Defensive Coordinator

D+. Clayton White’s tenure as the defensive coordinator of the South Carolina football program has been filled with ups and downs. Most of the ups have been driven by fielding a unit that forces turnovers. In 2021 and 2022, the Gamecocks led the SEC in turnovers forced per game (1.8 in each season), so the defense was serviceable. For most of 2023, when the turnovers dried up, the defense was among the worst in the country. Then, a combined 10 takeaways over their last 4 games salvaged the season number a bit and allowed the Gamecocks to move from 2-6 to 5-7. A disappointing season avoided complete disaster with a strong finish from the defense.. Defense. South Carolina Gamecocks. CLAYTON WHITE, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer has a decision to make this offseason about his defensive coordinator.

It has become glaringly obvious that Clayton White’s unit is a below-average group that can only operate at an above-average if they are forcing large amounts of turnovers. In the first 8 games of the year, the Gamecocks forced just 7 turnovers and were 2-6 (three of those takeaways came in the two wins).

When the Gamecocks recovered 6 fumbles and picked off 3 passes in games 9, 10, and 11, they went 3-0. Forcing just one total turnover against Clemson, South Carolina football lost the annual rivalry game.

White’s unit gave up at least 395 yards per game in 2023, the second year in a row they managed to post that unfortunate statistic. They also allowed over 200 yards rushing on four separate occasions (yielding an unsurprising 1-3 record in those games) and allowed at least one rushing touchdown and at least one passing touchdown in 9 of their 12 games this season.

Simply put, the Gamecock defense was bad in 2023, and it took a solid finish to the year (allowing 282 yards per game and 12 points per game in a new 3-3-5 defense) to keep them out of the bottom-10 nationally in most total defensive statistics.

White took entirely too long to make significant adjustments this season. The Gamecocks were getting gashed in their base 4-2-5 look, and White’s stubbornness in playing safeties at nickel (he started 5 different players at nickel who were part of the 2-deep at safety this season) resulted in two different receivers (Tulu Griffin of Mississippi State and Ricky Pearsall of Florida) to set career highs in receiving yards. Three others came close, as well.

It remains to be seen if the final three games of the year did enough to overcome the previous 9 in the mind of Coach Beamer as evaluates his coaching staff for potential changes.