The bye week for eight-ranked South Carolina could not come at a better time. The Gamecocks are battered, bruised, and reeling from the gruesome injury of running back Marcus Lattimore. Connor Shaw is wearing a walking boot after spraining his ankle in Saturday’s game against Tennessee, Kelcy Quarles has been out the last two weeks due to suspension/injury from the LSU game, Byron Jerideau reinjured his ankle that he injured in the LSU game, and Jadeveon Clowney has been hampered by a foot injury that he suffered back in high school. With three of the four being starting defensive linemen, the break comes at a perfect time for defensive line coach Brad Lawing.
“It’s big because we have some guys that are beat up,” Lawing said. “You play nine straight weeks of college football and seven are in the SEC you’re going to get beat up. We’re tired and we need rest. We’re bruised up so we can use the time off.”
South Carolina navigated the first nine weeks with a 7-2 record, a record that has them back in the top 10 in the latest BCS standings after a pair of losses to fifth-ranked LSU and seventh-ranked Florida knocked them out of the top 10. South Carolina’s SEC East championship hopes are still alive following Georgia’s victory over Florida, but are still hanging by a thread. Carolina got back on the winning track Saturday with a 38-35 victory over Tennessee, a high-scoring affair that the Gamecock defense is not accustomed to seeing.
“Our main goal was to win the ball game and we did that,” Lawing said. “We knew it was going to be hard to affect their quarterback and there were times that we did but we didn’t do it enough. I’ve always operated on the premise that it takes 11 people to stop the run and 11 people to stop the pass. They handled the run most of the game as a defense but we didn’t affect the quarterback consistently enough. We did early and hit him several times, but we allowed him to get in his rhythm.”
Clowney, who said following the game that the Tennessee offensive line was the best he’d ever played against, did not play for part of the first quarter due to those bone spurs in his foot that has been an issue for several years.
“He didn’t feel good warming up,” Lawing said. “He played the first series and the second series he said ‘Coach, I can’t give it my all right now.’ I don’t ever want to put a player out there that’s not capable of playing full speed.”
While on the sidelines getting treatment, Lawing brought former Gamecock Jordin Lindsey to prove a point. Clowney did not know who Lindsey was, but Lawing informed him that Lindsey once played with a broken wrist to encourage Clowney to fight through the pain and get back on the field.
“Jadeveon’s foot is an on-going thing that’s affected him all season,” Lawing said. “It’s just a pain issue, it’s not something that is structurally wrong. It’s just the pain level. They’re painful so he has to fight through them.”
After sitting out a series to get his foot worked on and retaped, Clowney came back to play the remainder of the game. He had the attention of the Volunteer offensive line, as has been the case most of the season. Clowney was routinely double-teamed so he was moved inside for a series just to see if it would work better.
“He did okay there,” Lawing said. “I moved him in there just to get him away from all that stuff because they were turning the guard on him and sometimes the back also, which makes it difficult to pressure a guy. I moved him inside for a series and let him play a three-point technique. He’s done that before this season and he did okay with it.”
Clowney was moved back to the outside for the final drive, where he had the play of the game. He sacked Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, the first defensive lineman to do so all season, and caused a fumble that was recovered by Shaq Wilson. Clowney beat Vol tackle Antonio Richardson and there was no guard or running back to help.
“He just beat that tackle,” Lawing said. “That tackle is a real good player, but he just beat him. Thank goodness he did.”
Jerideau was injured during the game when he injured the same ankle he sprained several weeks ago. The coaches decided not to allow him to return to the game, but are hopeful that he will be 100% percent next week.
If there is a silver lining in the injuries, it is the fact that it is to veteran players who can afford to miss a few days of practice and allow younger guys to get more reps. Lawing doesn’t have to tell his guys whether or not they should practice or not. He lets them decide on their own.
“I tell all of them to do what you can do, and I trust them,” Lawing said. “If I didn’t trust them it would be a different factor. I believe that if they can’t go they’re hurt and they can’t push through it. I want to get them healthy for the stretch run.”
With a stretch run that includes three very difficult offenses, Lawing will need his guys healthy. Arkansas and Clemson will both run wide open, spread offenses while Wofford runs that triple-option that is always tricky to stop.
“Hopefully in two weeks we’ll be as healthy as we can be for the stretch run with Arkansas, Wofford and Clemson,” Lawing said.