T.J. Brunson knows what to expect when he comes to practice. At least two days a week, he knows the coaches are going to throw red zone scenario after red zone scenario at him because of how important it is to his team’s success.
Saturday against Missouri it paid off.
The Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) gave up yards in between the 20s, but once Missouri got into danger territory, the defense was as stifling as ever. It limited the Tigers to just three points on three trips, blocking a field goal at the end of the first half and a turnover on downs to put the game away.
“It’s a big part,” Brunson said of the red zone defense. “We work on keeping people out of the end zone and that’s a big thing for us. Once we get in the red zone, that’s a mentality: bow your neck.”
Missouri outgained South Carolina 423 to 359, averaging 6.1 yards per play.
Drew Lock completed four passes for over 15 yards and Missouri running backs, led by Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter, rattled off six runs of 10 yards or more against the defense.
But every time the Tigers got close to sniffing the end zone, the Gamecock defense would buckle down.
Part of that is the Gamecocks’ bend-but-don’t-break mentality, which they’ve adopted this year, and other parts are about players stepping up in big moments. Javon Kinlaw blocked his first-ever field goal
“In these offenses there’s going to be a big play or two but it’s just to bounce back attitude; so what, now what?” Chris Lammons said. “Just come back and play, don’t let it happen again.”
USC head coach Will Muschamp said he doesn’t really care too much about yardage, but wants his team to win the turnover battle, get off the field on third down and stop teams from scoring in the red zone.
Missouri had a minus-three turnover with two interceptions and a fumble lost, went 5-for-12 on third down and only had three red zone points.
What resulted was the Gamecocks’ first true road win since September 2016.
“We did things good football teams do on the road in this league. It’s a very explosive offense,” Muschamp said. “We may have given up some yards but I could care less about yardage, it’s about points. When you get in the red zone you play good red zone defense.”
The Gamecocks have been outgained by around 300 yards so far this season but are undefeated heading into the home opener against Kentucky Saturday night.
They know the defense is far from perfect, but right now it’s getting results.