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’s TJ Sanders has been one of the best defensive performers this offseason. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union] /

South Carolina Football Offseason Autopsy:
Grading the Defensive Line Play

Defense. South Carolina Gamecocks. DEFENSIVE LINE PLAY. C-. The South Carolina football team did not perform well enough on the defensive line this season. It was a strange season up front, though, as certain players would be borderline dominant one game and non-existent in another. The Gamecocks were the only team in the SEC that had three different players win the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award, but they also were last in the SEC in tackles for loss and tied for last in the conference in sacks.

The Gamecock defensive line didn’t play well enough as a whole in 2023. However, the problems were not easily identifiable nor were they consistent.

For example, TJ Sanders led the Gamecocks in tackles for loss and sacks and was the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week after a great performance against Georgia. He also had four games with 1 or 0 tackles.

Tonka Hemingway came into the season with high expectations and did not have the type of year that many were hoping he’d have. He flashed more good moments as the season went on, and when he played better, so did the rest of the defense.

Boogie Huntley was asked to do more than he should have in 2023. At just 300 pounds, he’s a little smaller than most nose tackles, but that was the role he played most of the season. Even so, he had some good performances.

The EDGE position was bad. The team only had two true defensive ends who saw much playing time as redshirt senior Tyreek Johnson was finally healthy, and JT Geer played his first year in Columbia after transferring from Syracuse. Neither player was bad, but Johnson’s limited athleticism and Geer’s injury situation kept them from being major factors.

The hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end types on the roster didn’t get home much this season. Bryan Thomas and Jordan Strachan certainly had some good moments, but neither player made much of an impact outside of Strachan’s game against Kentucky. Freshman Desmond Umeozulu needed more time to be ready for the SEC, as well, but he was forced into action.

Defensive linemen like Nick Barrett, Elijah Davis, and Drew Tuazama were non-factors all season, and the Gamecocks really needed them to step up to have a good year up front. That didn’t happen, putting too much stress on the top four or five guys.