By Rixon Lane
It's been no secret that the South Carolina defense has had some struggles this season.
The Gamecocks are 89th in the FBS in total defense, 95th in 3rd down defense, 96th in first downs allowed, 98th in points allowed, 101st in turnovers forced, 103rd in red zone defense, 104th in rushing defense, 122nd in tackles for loss, and dead last in college football in stopping 4th down conversions.
But for all those stats, one in particular might be the most disconcerting.
South Carolina has eight sacks this season, the fewest of the 74 teams in the "Power 5" conferences. The Gamecocks are averaging a sack every 31.4 pass attempts, only slightly better than UCLA's rate of one every 32.3 attempts. In fact, South Carolina has only recorded 22 quarterback hurries in 251 opposing pass attempts.
Gerald Dixon, who I proclaimed to be the most productive defensive player on South Carolina's roster, has recorded 25% of all Gamecock sacks this season. Half of the sacks this season came against Georgia and Missouri, when South Carolina brought down Hutson Mason and Maty Mauk twice apiece. The Bulldogs and Tigers have allowed less than two sacks per game this season, making that accomplishment even more impressive. However, the Gamecocks also recorded just one sack against Kentucky, a team that has given up 20 sacks in eight games.
South Carolina's lack of a pass rush can be contributed to several different factors. The Gamecocks played Texas A&M and East Carolina in their first two contests and both teams run a quick-strike offense that is predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand quickly. There have been almost no coverage sacks this season because there has been very little coverage from the Gamecock secondary. And, of course, there are games like Kentucky and Auburn, when opponents had little to no desire to throw the football, instead choosing to pound South Carolina's run defense.
The good news for South Carolina is that Tennessee is, statistically, the third-worst pass protection team in college football. The Volunteers have allowed 32 sacks in eight games, last in the SEC and 123rd in FBS.
But can the Gamecocks take advantage on a night where they desperately need an SEC victory?