Apart from the obstacle of starting a true freshman quarterback, the largest challenge for South Carolina in its 20-15 victory over East Carolina was containing the Pirates’ prolific quarterback, Philip Nelson. Entering Saturday’s contest, Nelson provided the firepower for an offense that boasted the nation’s eighth-most yards per play and a completion percentage over 80, two marks of decided proficiency.
Rather than let East Carolina dictate the pace of the game, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp instructed his players to be cognizant of the deep ball at all times and to keep the Pirates’ receivers in front of them. This strategy paid dividends, especially when it comes to the red zone where the Gamecocks’ stifled two important ECU drives with interceptions in the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, East Carolina clawed back into the game with two field goals, putting the Pirates in a 17-6 hole. ECU put together a 10-play drive, one that pinned the Gamecocks’ defense deep in its own territory, but South Carolina cornerback Jamarcus King ended the Pirates’ drive with a pick in the end zone.
“I just seen the ball so I had to go get it,” King said after the game. “I wasn’t even paying attention. I just seen the ball and I had to grab it.”
Later in the contest, South Carolina cornerback Chris Lammons made a similar play on the opposite side of the field. After logging his first interception of the season against East Carolina, Lammons described his thought process and how he defends passing plays near the goal line.
“I’m watching [the quarterback] because it could be a slant,” Lammons said. “We don’t know that it’s going to be a back shoulder, he could run a slant. If he runs a slant, I just have to drive on him But if he runs a back shoulder I have to get my head around quicker and make a play on the ball.
“We play the back shoulder first. On goal line we look to see if its a quick pass, if its not we flip our heads. It’s the coaches technique, and I just played it to the best of my ability… Coach put me in the position to make a play, and it was man-on-man, so I made the play.”
Despite these two individual efforts that helped secure the lead for South Carolina, the East Carolina offense passed for 400-yards and put the pressure on the Gamecocks’ defensive backs to make plays all game long. South Carolina often played a soft zone coverage, which left routes in the flat or under the second level open, an element that the Pirates consistently took advantage of.
East Carolina Zay Jones had the most productive day of his career and nearly set an NCAA record in the process. Jones recorded 22 receptions for 190 yards, and a 23rd catch would have tied the FBS single-game record.
“It was real frustrating because he lined up in the slot a lot,” Lammons said. “The defense, we were playing to let him get all the short passes and everything like that. And red zone defense, we practice like that and made plays.”
Both Lammons and King will be tasked with facing a Kentucky aerial attack in week four that has rotated quarterbacks but seems to have found a steady hand in Stephen Johnson. South Carolina faces the Wildcats on the road at 7:30 p.m. Eastern this Saturday.