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
Coach Shane Beamer coaching the defense at South Carolina football practice. Mandatory Credit: Syndication: The Greenville News /

South Carolina Football Offseason Autopsy:
Grading the Defensive Coaching

C-. The South Carolina football program has a uniquely structured defensive coaching staff. That isn’t a good thing. Defensive coordinator Clayton White doesn’t really coach a position as the linebackers have been led by graduate assistants and analysts most of the time. Defensive tackles coach Travian Robertson and EDGE/outside linebackers coach Sterling Lucas have some overlap in their duties, especially when considering the 3-3-5 formation. Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray has a proven track record, but things weren’t good this season. Frankly, it is hard to say that any defensive coach did a tremendous job in 2023, but like White did as the DC, Robertson and Lucas were much better after the defense switched to the 3-3-5. Gray, too, was better later in the season when White stopped dialing up as much man coverage from safeties who were covering slot receivers. It was a weird season for the defensive coaches in Columbia, and changes/tweaks are needed.. Defense. South Carolina Gamecocks. DEFENSIVE COACHES

The Gamecock defense was bad for most of the 2023 season, so it is no surprise that the perception is that the defensive coaching staff didn’t have a very good showing, as well.

White’s secondary job as the team’s linebackers coach is a failure because he rarely does that job. Graduate assistants and analysts handle much of the positional coaching duties for White, something that has been evident on the field. The emergence of Debo Williams as a good run stopper and the late-season surge from Bam Martin-Scott helped mask this deficiency.

With Williams and Martin-Scott expected to return next year, and with Stone Blanton, Pup Howard, and Jaron Willis getting another offseason of development, there is a chance that the linebacker unit will be the best position group on the defense in 2024. However, coaching at the position has to be better (maybe with a full-time assistant).

Torrian Gray’s defensive backfield struggled mightily at times this season. Some of that was the scheme (as talked about often this season, the Gamecocks put safeties at nickel and asked them to play man coverage), but Carolina was unable to replace NFL corners Cam Smith and Darius Rush in an adequate way, either.

It is hard to tell how much the secondary’s struggles in 2023 were because of White’s stubbornness with his 4-2-5 and his safety-nickels and how much the struggles were because of personnel and coaching. However, it is easy to know that it all must be better moving forward, and the Gamecocks need Torrian Gray to coach like vintage Torrian Gray to make it happen.

The duo of Travian Robertson and Sterling Lucas split the duties of coaching the players up front, and the Gamecock defensive line hasn’t been good enough.

To be fair, Travian Robertson was in his first year as the defensive tackles coach, and Jimmy Lindsey (the previous coach) didn’t seem to do a whole lot of developing or recruiting to help the room. Lucas has been really good as a recruiter and has spent time coaching in the NFL, so it feels like it only will be a matter of time before he has a consistently good EDGE unit.

After the 3-3-5 switch, Robertson and Lucas got better performances from their position groups, and the linebackers played better, as well, indicating that much of the defensive issues were more scheme-related than player or coach failures. The position coaches aren’t off the hook for the bad year, but things were not as bad from a position coach standpoint as it seemed from the outside.