COLUMBIA — Next to hamstrings, foot ailments have seemingly nagged South Carolina players more than any other injury over the past year or so.
Arguably, USC’s top two defensive players are currently nursing foot problems, although neither appears serious enough to keep them out of action.
Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton will likely sit out parts of practice for the rest of the year, but should be available to play in the games, starting with next Saturday’s noon road test at UCF in Orlando.
“By game time, they’ll all be ready to play,” Steve Spurrier said Thursday night during a bye week edition of his weekly call-in show. “We haven’t really talked about it this week. Any injury, to tell you the truth.”
The biggest misperception concerning Clowney, Spurrier said, is he isn’t playing as well as last season when he won the Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Statistically, Clowney has about the same number of tackles and sacks after three games as he did last season.
“He’s played pretty similarly to what he did last year in the first few games. He’s about the same,” Spurrier said. “The other night, he made a big sack and caused a fumble down around the 15-yard line and we got a turnover. It was a big play by Jadeveon. Sack and fumble, he’s made a bunch of those.
“The big hit (in the Outback Bowl) got all the attention. It was a hit heard around the world, they said. And it probably was. But he had big plays in a lot of games. But not five or six of them. Just one or two at the right time. Last week, that was our first turnover of the year.”
Cedrick Cooper, who has moved to middle linebacker, was “running around” during Thursday’s practice and should be ready to see his first action of the season at UCF, Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks are seventh in the SEC in total defense (365.7 ypg) after three weekends, but they allowed fewer than 300 total yards in the wins over North Carolina and Vanderbilt, so the middle tier ranking is largely reflective of USC’s struggles at Georgia.
“Our defense has been decent, it’s been pretty good,” Spurrier said. “Of course, Georgia had 536 yards. We think we can play better. Coach (Lorenzo) Ward and all our coaches think we can play better. If we’re going to have a big year, the entire team has to get better as we go.”
- Spurrier said USC will begin “gearing up” for UCF on Monday night when practice resumes following a three-day break.
- Spurrier confirmed Victor Hampton will be back on punt returns for next week’s game at UCF, while Bruce Ellington will handle kickoff returns. Special teams coordinator Joe Robinson could change some of the personnel on special teams looking for “a little more effort and enthusiasm.”
- Spurrier said freshman Larenz Bryant “did OK” in his first action at spur last weekend.
- Spurrier said the young linebackers must grow and develop and “play their way into being good players. You just don’t do it right off the bat.” He expects the linebackers will improve as the season progresses. “Getting into the right place and getting lined up is the big thing right now,” he said.
- Spurrier said Cody Waldrop is questionable for the UCF game, but hinted there is no need to rush him back from a sprained foot injury because Clayton Stadnik “has held his own in there and played pretty well.” Stadnik was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week on Monday.
- Tight ends have combined for seven receptions in three games. Spurrier acknowledged they haven’t had many opportunities along with some of the backup receivers such as Damiere Byrd (three receptions for 34 yards), but could get more opportunities as the season progresses.
- Spurrier on Vanderbilt’s second-half comeback: “A good scare is worth a 1,000 words of advice.”
- Spurrier on special teams demon Sidney Rhodes: “He is the first guy down there and seems to be the only guy that really wants to make the tackle at times,” Spurrier said. “Sidney flies down there, takes a good angle and makes a whole bunch of tackles.” USC will play first-teamers on special teams if necessary, he said.
- Spurrier said quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have both played well so far, and both should see action.
- Spurrier still expressed frustration over USC’s poor tackling on the interception return by the Vanderbilt defensive back in last week’s game.
- Spurrier said he was informed on Thursday by USC’s ticket manager that the Oct. 5 home game against Kentucky is sold out.
- Spurrier described defensive line coach Deke Adams is “a super coach” and “an excellent recruiter” and “a valuable asset to our program.”