COLUMBIA, S.C. – D.J. Smith knew the impressive stats Texas A&M had before Saturday.
The South Carolina senior safety rattled off averages of “500-600 yards” and “50 points a game” on Saturday night, closely describing the numbers the Aggies didn’t reach because of a good defensive effort from the Gamecocks.
“I think we all just played hard,” Smith said. “We didn’t really care about their numbers or who they had on their team. We just wanted to play and to win. We didn’t win, unfortunately.”
The Gamecocks (2-3) lost 24-13 to the Aggies (5-0). But the defense largely played well, holding Texas A&M to 422 yards and 24 points. Both figures are well below A&M’s season averages of 545.8 yards and 43.0 points per game going into Saturday.
Afterward, coach Will Muschamp still said he expects more from his defense.
“We are playing just decent,” Muschamp said. “We are playing decent. Don’t be confused with good.”
Muschamp was not pleased with giving up 9 of 19 third-down conversions to Texas A&M, calling it “disappointing.” He also wanted to see more physical play from USC’s cornerbacks, but the biggest issue came in sealing run gaps consistently.
“We’ve got to play all those things right,” Muschamp said. “That’s the way it is. I’m proud of our guys. We are improving. We are playing blocks better. We are doing a lot of things better. But we don’t have a lot of margin for error. I’m frustrated right now. I’m frustrated for our players right now.”
The Gamecocks limited the Aggies’ big plays, which Muschamp pegged as the key to keeping them to just 24 points. Trayveon Williams’ 49-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter was Texas A&M’s standout explosive play.
USC held Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight to a season-low 206 passing yards without a touchdown pass.
“I think we can take away that when we’ve got the energy and we are all in and playing for each other, we can have some good bursts and we can play with anybody in the country,” Smith said. “I just think it comes down to us finishing the game and not making dumb errors like dropped punts and field goals we should have made.”
South Carolina also forced two turnovers, as Darius English stripped Knight and safety Chris Moody recovered. Cornerback Chris Lammons followed suit on the next possession with an acrobatic interception on a deep pass from Knight, who was without two of his top receiving targets as Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones did not play.
“Our biggest thing is just go out and play hard,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “I feel like we were kind of physical at the point of attack. A lot of their big plays, we limited. We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do enough to win the game. That’s just the approach that we take as a defense. We want to win the ballgame on defense.”
The movement in that direction has continued this season and Saturday was an affirmation of that. The credit, Allen-Williams said, goes to Muschamp, defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson and the position coaches.
“They do a great job in pulling out the key traits in us,” Allen-Williams said. “They make us want to play hard. Coach Muschamp is definitely a coach you want to go and give your all for. We’ve just got to continue to get better and I know we will.”