Why South Carolina has to be better in this defensive stat in 2022

Sam Wolfe/Special To The State

South Carolina football is back in the swing of things.

The Gamecocks opened fall camp last week and the season opener against Georgia State is less than a month away.

Let’s dive into a few reader questions as things begin to take shape:

Over the past few seasons, the defense has put the opponents in 3rd and very long, yet break down giving up first downs. Is there a plan to emphasize planning for this and execute to get off the field as expected? — Randy B.

As an ex-journalism major, I have to give Randy a shoutout for forcing me to do some Algebra II-level stuff for this question.

I’ll pivot on this a bit given there’s no public record of South Carolina’s numbers in 3rd-and-long situations, but its opponents’ third-down conversion rates in recent years are worth discussing.

The Gamecocks have been one of the Southeastern Conference’s worst teams in third-down defense over the last five seasons, allowing opponents to convert on 41.16% of attempts in that span. That’s good for an average finish between 10th and 11 in the league annually.

In the eight seasons South Carolina reached bowl eligibility over the last 10 years, the Gamecocks ranked in the top nine of the SEC in opponent third down conversion rate four times — including in each all three of Steve Spurrier’s 11-win seasons between 2011 and 2013.

South Carolina’s defense had its moments a season ago. The Gamecocks led the SEC in takeaways and passing defense. But too many miscues in the run game cost defensive coordinator Clayton White’s defense in spurts.

USC needs to find a way to be better on third down in 2022. It’s not a perfect indicator of success, but it ought to go a long way in giving a retooled offense more opportunities.

Hey, Ben. Do you think the Gamecocks will use DK Joyner much behind center this year? — Dave R.

I’ll be honest, Dakereon Joyner could line up at punter at practice next week and I’d believe it.

Joyner, as you might recall, was the hero of South Carolina’s win over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. He completed all nine of his passes in a surprise start at quarterback, while adding another 61 yards rushing.

The expectation is Joyner will continue to work at receiver full-time this fall, but his showing in the bowl game offers evidence he can execute the offense at a high-level, albeit in more limited and gadget-ish settings.

The Gamecocks are incredibly deep at receiver this fall. Given the way guys like Arkansas State transfer Corey Rucker and returner Ahmarean Brown have come on and been talked up in preseason camp — at least for what that’s worth — it feels like Joyner has his work cut out for him just to have a big impact at receiver.

That said, he’s far too explosive an athlete to just leave on the sidelines every week. I think he’ll have his chances to run some wildcat quarterback, but I’m a littllllle hesitant to say he’ll be a mainstay in the receiver rotation by the end of the year.

Are there any super exciting nonconference games scheduled in the future? — Tim B.

There are! Conveniently, the good folks at FBSschedules.com have a database of just about every future scheduled game in college football that’s easy to browse.

The few I’d circle are the upcoming nonconference games against Virginia Tech in Atlanta as part of the 2025 Chick-fil-A Kickoff event and the home-and-home with Miami slotted for 2026 and 2027.

The Virginia Tech game has a million obvious storylines with Shane Beamer as the head coach, given the legendary run his father, Frank, had guiding the Hokies. That it will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium only adds to the fun.

I’m fascinated by the Miami series if only because it feels like Mario Cristobal is already turning a corner in his first year leading the Hurricanes. I’m not exactly in the minority thinking Cristobal is going to have his alma mater contending the way teams in Corral Gables did in the not-so-distant past in short order. It’s impossible to predict what South Carolina or Miami’s rosters will look like if/when those games are played, but they have the makings of big-time matchups.

I’ll throw in one more bonus — how about Akron coming to Columbia in 2024? Ex-Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead has quietly done a nice job luring Power Five transfers to a program that has largely been a football graveyard since he was hired in December. South Carolina should still be heavy favorites, in theory, but facing a former SEC head coach has the makings of a fun game.

Then again, the way conference realignment is going coupled with the SEC’s likely to move to a new scheduling model, some of these games might come off the books.

Let’s check back on this in a few months, shall we?


Send us your Gamecock questions

Got questions you want answered about the team? Email Ben Portnoy at bportnoy@thestate.com and your question could appear in an upcoming mailbag Q&A.