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What South Carolina's hoping to fix in rush defense

Sunday night was a long one for Will Muschamp and South Carolina’s defensive coaching staff.

The group, Muschamp said, stayed up late to figure out some of the things plaguing statistically the SEC’s 13th worst defense.

What Muschamp found in his long night reviewing film wasn’t anything systematically wrong but more guys not tackling as well as they should in the second level.

“We’ve given up tremendous amounts of yardage, by not tackling on the second level, and that’s been frustrating,” Muschamp said. “That’s been a little bit of the issue at the safety position, it’s been some at the corner position and it’s been some at the nickel position. Those are all things we’re going to continue to work on.”

The biggest difference from last year’s run defense is the fact that players in the secondary aren’t tackling well. Muschamp said if defensive backs tackle better, it could take some of the 20 (to)30-yard runs opponents have rattled off and turn those into eight-yard gains.

Through five games, the Gamecocks’ tackling grades from Pro Football Focus haven’t been great. Of the players with at least 140 snaps in the secondary, the average tackling grade is 62.3 and the average safety grade is 59.1.

“We just have to do a better job of tackling. We’re just working every day on tackling,” Jamyest Williams said. “The assignments are good but it’s fundamentals.”

Some of the other problems come up front with a relatively inexperienced defensive line with five second-year or younger players seeing significant snaps: Aaron Sterling, Brad Johnson, J.J. Enagbare, Rick Sandidge and Javon Kinlaw.

With younger players still getting used to college football, they could try and freelance a little more in the run game and that gets them out of position, something the veterans have tried to break them of this season.

“It’s natural to say the ball’s over there and see ball, get ball,” Danny Fennell said. “But you have to have the discipline to say, ‘This is my job, this is my area and this is what I’m taking care of.’”

The Gamecocks' (3-2, 2-2 SEC) rush defense, which gave up a season-high 286 yards on the ground to Missouri last week and an average of 194 yards per game, will face one of its biggest tests yet this Saturday.

They’ll meet a Texas A&M ground attack led by the SEC’s top rusher Trayveon Williams (720 yards) and a ground game averaging 220.8 yards per game.

The defense isn’t shying away from the challenge but is hoping the recent struggles defensively are reversed this weekend.

“He’s a solid back. He’s one of those guys that can take the ball anywhere,” TJ Brunson said. “I’m sure he’ll be even better this year and I’m looking forward to playing him this year.”

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Collyn Taylor reports for GamecockCentral.com, the Rival affiliate devoted to USC athletics.

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