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December 17, 2010

USC Trying To Avoid Another Big-Play Receiver

None of Florida State's four main wide receivers are that threatening by themselves. As a group, they're dangerous, with Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Willie Haulstead each over 500 yards for the season and Rodney Smith only 64 yards from the same plateau. There's not one receiver that is really the one name that South Carolina will have to contain during the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Of course, Adam Mims, Denarius Moore and Chris Matthews weren't names, either.

The battered secondary of the No. 19 Gamecocks is trying to regroup after a disastrous showing in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn's Darvin Adams became the latest receiver to have a one-man highlight reel against USC, catching seven passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns -- in the first half.

The No. 23 Seminoles, especially if they have a fully healthy Christian Ponder at quarterback, no doubt know about the Gamecocks' hefty struggles against the pass and will be trying to place one of their top four receivers into the company of others. USC has allowed seven receivers to catch at least 100 yards this season, with three going for at least 200.

The Gamecocks are trying to answer by simply getting back to basics. Fourteen games into the season, the coaches feel a switch to a new system wouldn't be wise; plus, the Auburn game film revealed mass breakdowns in assignments and execution, not so much the scheme.

"Not going to do anything new, definitely not going to do anything new," said Lorenzo Ward, overseer of the secondary, on Thursday. "Try to figure out why we played the way we played. Guys just didn't execute the way they had been executing in practice."

It has been a recurring problem the Gamecocks thought they had repaired, judging from the three opponents before Auburn. Only Clemson had a receiver break loose (DeAndre Hopkins had 124 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions) but that was certainly excusable considering the result -- Hopkins' TD was the Tigers' only score and USC ran off 29 unanswered points to easily take the victory.

But after Adams and Auburn filleted the Gamecocks in Atlanta, USC realized that the plays and coverage the secondary had made against Troy, Florida and Clemson were more the result of the opponent not throwing downfield, not necessarily the defense playing up to the challenge. Only the Trojans' offense could really be considered a downfield threat, and USC was content to let Troy attempt it, considering it was ahead 56-7 at halftime.

Adams did what Mims, Matthews and Moore did before him. Furman's Mims caught 10 passes for 202 yards, Matthews had 12 for 177 in a loss to Kentucky, Moore had six for 228 in a win over Tennessee.

Then there were Alabama's Julio Jones, who had eight for 118 yards, and Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton, with seven for 111. Another Razorback, Jarius Wright, was close to the century mark with four catches for 88 yards.

The head-scratching never ceased. The Gamecocks had done a wonderful job on Southern Miss' DeAndre Brown in the season-opener, Brown getting four catches for 65 yards only after the 41-13 rout was well on its way. Then against Georgia, USC didn't have to face A.J. Green, but even after Kris Durham caught three passes for 76 yards, the Gamecocks didn't allow any touchdowns and won the game.

So what went wrong against Auburn? Hardly any pass-rush, for one, but otherwise the same problems that have plagued the Gamecocks -- cover men are not covering.

"We didn't execute our game plan, and they did," said corner Stephon Gilmore, who was picked on by Cameron Newton and never got to get even. "We watched it twice, but coach told us to put that behind us and get focused on the Florida State game."

Akeem Auguste felt Gilmore's pain as well. It was he that was caught watching instead of covering, as a deflected Hail Mary pass was caught by Adams in the end zone, and Newton later hurdled Auguste on a run.

"We watched a little bit of the Auburn. It's past us now," Auguste said. "At the same time, I'm still thinking about it."

Ponder and the Seminoles represent a significant threat. Their offense can come at a team in several different ways, no one player getting the bulk of the catches or rushing attempts. The Gamecocks' run defense has been grand, but the pass defense hasn't -- and the opponent surely knows it.

But USC has one more chance to fix what is wrong.

"Guys weren't playing their assignments. They beat us real good," insisted corner Brandan Davis. "Not a new plan, just executing. It was depressing, but we're going to be all right. Looking forward to Florida State."

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