COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp called out his three senior defensive linemen during SEC Media Days earlier this month.
“It starts up front in our league, obviously,” Muschamp said, during his live television appearance in Hoover, Ala. “Taylor Stallworth, Ulric Jones and Dante Sawyer are three seniors.
“For us to play well defensively, we need these guys to play well, so we’re putting the pressure on these guys. They’ve got to play well for us to take the next step.”
In the trio’s junior season, South Carolina’s run defense gave up an average of 203 yards per game, which ranked 90th in the country. SEC opponents averaged more than 5 yards a carry, to go along with 11 touchdowns on the ground.
Stallworth, a tackle who started in every game in 2016, believes Muschamp’s assessment was spot-on.
“It does start in the trenches,” Stallworth said. “Stopping the run is a big part, obviously. We didn’t do a good job at that [last season]. We take that as a challenge, but it’s a good challenge, because he knows what we can do.”
No offense was taken, probably because that’s what comes with the territory when you’re a senior.
“I feel like, for us, it didn’t piss us off,” Stallworth said. “He expects us to do more, so it’s a good thing, because he wants to do more.”
The progression of redshirt sophomore end Shameik Blackshear could go a long way in helping the Gamecocks defense and the three of seniors who play on the line.
Blackshear, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds in December 2015, continues to trend in the right direction, both on and off the field.
“He’s a lot stronger, because he’s had a year of lifting, where he missed that last year, so there’s no doubt his body has changed,” Muschamp said. “He’s up over 260. He’s gotten stronger, and I think anytime you gain more strength and you gain better change of direction, better flexibility, you gain confidence in what you’re trying to do. That certainly is going to help him.”
Stallworth can’t wait to see what’s in store this fall.
“Because, now, he’s bigger, faster — it’s just impressive,” Stallworth said. “I’m just ready to see [Blackshear] on the field.”
— Hale McGranahan (@Hale_SECcountry) July 30, 2017