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Gamecock Defense Has Tough Test in USF

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Thursday will be a great barometer for the Gamecocks as they look to contain the likes of Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack.

As Will Muschamp continues to build his foundation at South Carolina, he will look to do so with a defense that leads the way. This season, the Gamecocks jumped up to sixth in the SEC in total defense, a dramatic improvement from last place in the league a year ago. In the upcoming Birmingham Bowl against South Florida, South Carolina will be tested by an offense that ranks seventh nationally scoring 43.6 points per game.

Though the Bulls are in the middle of a coaching transition, Charlie Strong in for Willie Taggart with T.J. Weist serving as interim, the consistency of backfield production leads South Florida. Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who top the American Athletic Conference in passer rating and rushing yards by a quarterback, pairs with three-time 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack to give the Bulls one of the most dynamic attacks in college football. They are one of just ten teams in the country averaging over 515 yards of offense every time they take the field.

South Florida has the third-most plays of 40 yards or more this season with 29; the Gamecocks have allowed the fewest such conversions in the SEC, tied, in fact, for the second-fewest in all of power five football.

Led by Darius English, nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2016, South Carolina, even without all-conference linebacker Skai Moore for the year due to injury, currently has a top-half SEC defense. With 14 interceptions, the Gamecocks have one of the conference's better secondaries; overall, South Carolina is tied for the league-lead with 25 turnovers forced. As referenced above, this is a unit that also has not allowed many big plays.
 
Thursday will be a great barometer for the Gamecocks as they look to contain the likes of Flowers and Mack. Success, for South Carolina defensively, could result in both a winning season in Muschamp's debut and a important principal momentum for 2017.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports