COLUMBIA -- South Carolina heads into the Belk Bowl against the Virginia Cavaliers riddled with injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
So far, 12 Gamecock starters or would-be starters have missed at least one game this season on the defensive side of the ball alone and that will continue in the Belk Bowl as defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and cornerback Keisean Nixon will miss their first games of the season.
Nixon had a CAT scan to look at some shoulder pain and it revealed a fracture in one of the vertebrae in his neck. Kinlaw has been dealing with a torn hip labrum for several months and he and team physicians made the decision to have surgery before the bowl game to better prepare him for next season.
Add to that the fact that receiver Deebo Samuel is sitting out the Belk Bowl to focus on preparing for the NFL Draft and a season-ending injury to starting left guard Zack Bailey, and the offense will also play short-handed.
Coach Will Muschamp announced that Bryson Allen-Williams, Jaycee Horn, Jaylin Dickerson and Keir Thomas should play Dec. 29, but that the status of D.J. Wonnum and Aaron Sterling is still unclear. At this point, it seems more likely than not that Wonnum sits and applies for a medical redshirt after playing just three full games and parts of two others this season.
With so many holes, it can be difficult to discern what direction the staff will opt to go.
Based on Muschamp’s comments, here's a likely lineup at each position group.
Offensive line: Dennis Daley (LT), Donell Stanley (LG), Chandler Farrell (C), Sadarius Hutcherson (RG), Dylan Wonnum (RT)
A unit that has stayed relatively healthy throughout the year will have to adjust against Virginia after Zack Bailey went down with a broken fibula against Akron. Only Daley has missed time this season due to injury and he was replaced by tackle Malik Young. With Bailey playing on the interior, the adjustment this time will be different.
Gwyn is the likeliest choice to take over for Bailey next season, but he has been out since September with a foot injury.
Stanley, who played guard last season, will slide out to Bailey’s spot, leaving the center position open. Chandler Farrell, who has played in five games this season is the overwhelming favorite to take over there. Freshman Hank Manos could factor in at center as well, but in any case, Stanley will take over at left guard.
Receiver: Bryan Edwards (Z), Shi Smith (X), Josh Vann (Slot)
Edwards has started every game since the season opener of 2016 at the Z-receiver position and that won’t change for the Belk Bowl. Shi Smith, who has started all but one game of his Gamecock career in the slot, may bump out wide to Samuel’s X-receiver position, according to Muschamp.
Vann has mainly taken reps at Edwards’ Z spot but has the skill set to play in the slot. Smith is best suited for the slot, where multiple opposing coaches have pointed him out as the most difficult matchup on the entire offense. He had eight receptions in the first quarter from that position against Clemson.
The receiver rotation will likely be fluid. With as much talent as the Gamecocks have at the skill positions and a month to prepare, the offense should look largely the same without Samuel.
Defensive line: Bryson Allen-Williams (Ankle), Keir Thomas (Leg), Aaron Sterling (Knee- Questionable)
The defensive line situation is actually not as bad as it has been at times this season. Allen-Williams and Thomas should return from injury. Sterling’s status is not as certain as the two other returning linemen.
Allen-Williams and Thomas each started every game prior to injury, the former playing eight games and the latter playing 11. Allen-Williams, of course, has split time between linebacker and BUCK when healthy and will play along the line with Wonnum out. Freshmen Josh Belk and Rick Sandidge will add depth at defensive tackle while Brad Johnson will spell Allen-Williams while Blackshear and J.J. Enagbare can play both inside and outside.
Secondary: Rashad Fenton (CB), Israel Mukuamu (CB), Horn (Nickel), R.J. Roderick (SS), Steven Montac (FS)
Horn, who has been out since the third play of the Chattanooga game with an ankle injury, returns right as Nixon leaves with a neck injury. Horn is the likeliest candidate of the three corners to play in the slot, at least to finish this year. Dickerson should factor into the safety rotation with Roderick and Montac, giving the Gamecocks a redshirt freshman and three true freshmen among the top six secondary contributors.