COLUMBIA — South Carolina is unlikely to have sophomore defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, a starter, for Saturday afternoon’s game against third-ranked Florida and its prolific running game.
And the Gamecocks might also be without their own leading rushing, Marcus Lattimore, who didn’t practice Wednesday because of a hip injury suffered in last week’s loss at LSU.
Independent of Quarles striking an LSU player during the game — which has received plenty of attention — Quarles also sprained his shoulder. Though he returned to the game, “he’s very doubtful if he’ll be ready to play” at Florida, USC coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday.
The ninth-ranked Gamecocks are also dealing with sprained ankles to their two other primary defensive tackles — starter Byron Jerideau and top reserve J.T. Surratt. Jerideau suffered his injury two weeks ago against Georgia, but played against LSU. Surratt got hurt at LSU.
But Lattimore’s injury looms largest. Kenny Miles and Mike Davis shared the reps in Wednesday’s practice. Lattimore has 129 carries this year, Miles 27 and Davis 13.
“We’re not sure if (Lattimore) is even going to be able to play,” Spurrier said. (He has) maybe a little something similar to what (quarterback) Connor (Shaw) had in his back (earlier this season) that takes a week or two to heal. They called a bruised bone in the upper hip area somewhere. There’s probably a good chance Kenny will end up starting the game, and we’ll see how Marcus is by the weekend.”
Defensive line coach Brad Lawing said after Tuesday’s practice that he wouldn’t know until later in the week about the availability of his three ailing tackles. Jerideau expressed optimism after the practice that he would play. Spurrier said Wednesday that both Jerideau and Surratt “hopefully could be ready” for Florida. Surratt likely would make his first career start in place of Quarles. USC’s other tackles are redshirt freshmen Phillip Dukes and Gerald Dixon Jr.
Florida ranks No. 14 nationally in rushing offense (233.3 yards per game) and runs the ball 45.2 times per game, No. 12 nationally. The Gators are led by tailback Mike Gillislee’s 102.5 yards per game. Quarterback Jeff Driskel averages 54.3.
Spurrier said Quarles will face discipline from him and “possibly could” miss game time as a result of a blow to LSU center P.J. Lonergan.
After a running play on LSU’s fourth snap of the game, Quarles wound up on top of Lonergan. As Quarles tried to get up, Lonergan reached up and shoved his open hand into Quarles’ facemask. Quarles responded with an open-handed jab of his own, into Lonergan’s shoulder pad, near his helmet. The blow glanced off Lonergan’s facemask.
The SEC said that because Quarles is a first-time offender and his hit does not fall under the umbrella of those the NCAA requires for “automatic conference review,” Quarles’ punishment is in USC’s hands, but subject to league approval.
“Yes, we do have plans to discipline Kelcy for that,” Spurrier said. “It was a ... I guess you would call it a punch. I’ve seen a lot bigger punches. But he did sort of throw at him. I don’t even know if the LSU guy knew he threw a punch. I think it just sort of glanced off his shoulder pad or helmet or something in there. But I saw it, yeah. We don’t condone that.”
Special teams sputters
USC’s kickoff coverage issues continued at LSU. Michael Ford returned one kickoff 28 yards to LSU’s 35 and another 31 yards to the 31. Adam Yates’ first kickoff went out of bounds, resulting in LSU getting the ball at the 35 rather than the 25.
“Kickoff coverage was irritating,” Spurrier said. “Guys ran down there and we were in position to make plays. Again, we lost contain. Guys run down the field well and didn’t make a play. Just go tackle the guy.”
While USC punt returner Ace Sanders ranks No. 4 nationally with 17.4 yards per return, the Gamecocks rank No. 106 in opponents’ kickoff returns (24.4 yards per return). Yates has kicked off 29 times this season. He has 15 touchbacks and four kickoffs out of bounds.
“He may lead the nation in out of bounds kickoffs,” Spurrier said. “He’s got to. He can’t keep it in the ball park all the time. We’ve only tried five field goals and he’s kicked two low balls out of five. Sort of makes you nervous if you have to kick a field goal to win the game. He kicks them beautifully in practice. Yatesy is an excellent kicker, but he has a tendency to hook it out of bounds. That’s for sure.”
Yates is 3 of 5 on field goals and has missed from 33 and 36 yards. He is tied with Akron’s Zach Paul for the national lead in out-of-bounds kickoffs, but ranks No. 27 with a 63.2-yard average and No. 24 with touchbacks on 51.7 percent of his kickoffs.
USC is now 10-74 all-time against the top 10, after its home win earlier this month over No. 5 Georgia. The Gamecocks are 2-41 against the top 10 on the road, having fallen last week at No. 9 LSU. A win over Florida would match their best road win ever, in terms of ranking. USC won at No. 3 North Carolina in 1981. USC’s only other road win over a top 10 team: No. 8 West Virginia in 1953.