After Thursday's 17 point offensive output many of the 80,000+ attending Saturday's game will be looking for an improved offensive performance or at the very least some indication that the offense will improve and be more productive as the season continues. With Connor Shaw's injury, they may have to wait another week for that. However, they should get to find something interesting out about Lorenzo Ward's defense.
Ward was technically the defensive coordinator under assistant head coach Ellis Johnson last season before being named sole defensive coordinator before the bowl game. In his two games as sole DC he has given up 13 points in each contest. Last game against Vanderbilt his defense gave up only 1.7 yards rushing per attempt. He has continued to use Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme and has enjoyed similar success.
One of the shortcomings of Johnson's defense was its propensity to give up large point totals against pass oriented offenses. The two teams South Carolina faced last year that posed such a problem were Arkansas and East Carolina. Arkansas scored 44 points, and East Carolina reeled off 37. Those two games, along with Georgia's 42, were the only times South Carolina gave up more than 21 points all season.
The Pirates will be running their version of the Air Raid again this season, albeit with a less veteran quarterback. South Carolina will be defending it with three new starters in the secondary. Certainly many of other positions on ECU's offense are filled with returning starters, and many of Carolina's starters return as well, so it should be a fair match.
Don't make the mistake of assuming Lorenzo Ward is merely Ellis Johnson-lite. Even though the same basic scheme remains, that doesn't make the two coaches the same. Already this year we have seen Ward's defense play more aggressively with blitzes and stunts. That was an expected result after Ward's off season comments and should continue this week.
If Ward's differences produce the same results that Ellis Johnson's defenses did, then the Gamecocks should be comfortable knowing they have a very good defensive plan with very good personnel to execute it. If, however, Lorenzo Ward shuts down or severely limits the Pirates, he can step out of Ellis Johnson's shadow. When he does he'll have the potential to be an elite defensive coordinator in a league of DC giants. Either way, we should have a good idea after this week.