Rabbit Season: No. 6 Gamecocks on big-time rush

Associated Press Modified: September 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm •  Published: September 27, 2012
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It's rabbit season at No. 6 South Carolina.

The Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) this season have used their "rabbit defense" of all defensive ends across the line to cause havoc for opponents. It's not every play, but with ultra-quick ends like Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, it doesn't have to be.

South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing calls it the rabbit package because he feels defensive ends are faster and more athletic than defensive tackles.

But these rabbits aren't fuzzy or cuddly. They're aggressive.

South Carolina is second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Clowney leads the team with 4 1-2 sacks. The Gamecocks head to Kentucky (1-3, 0-1) seeking their school-record tying ninth straight victory.

"Those tackles hate it when I decide those athletes are going in," Lawing said.

Still, no one can argue with the results.

The Gamecocks, who ranked fifth in the SEC at stopping third down conversions with 35 percent, have lower that to less than 25 percent (14 of 59) this season. That means fewer opposing possessions and a big reason why South Carolina has given up less than 10 points a game this season.

"It's the truth," Lawing said of his unusual lineup of defensive ends. "Athletes are going in passing situations."

Lawing has tweaked the rabbit package since he got into college coaching at Appalachian State three decades ago. It depends on hyper-fast defensive ends who can quickly get past opposing linemen and end plays before they unfold.

Lawing will take out tackles Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau and insert ends Chaz Sutton and Adrick Fordham. All stand 6-foot-4 or taller. Then it's off to the races.

A year ago, the Gamecocks largely used the alignment with three defensive ends of Clowney, Taylor and Melvin Ingram, who had 10 ½ sacks and became a first-round NFL draft pick of the San Diego Chargers.

The scheme was perfect, Lawing said, for Ingram's speed and knack for disrupting things at the line.

This year's group of defensive ends has caused even more chaos.

Clowney and Taylor often require attention for more than one offensive player, giving Sutton and Fordham clearer shots to the backfield. Sutton's taken full advantage and has become, like Ingram a year ago, a defensive line surprise with his solid play so far. Sutton had a sack, another tackle for loss and forced a fumble in last week's 31-10 victory over Missouri. He's got three sacks on the season.

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