COLUMBIA -- A week or so before the season, South Carolina's Jason Barnes was one frustrated dude.

Just demoted on the receiver depth chart, Barnes publicly pouted about his situation.

Move forward a half-season, and it's Barnes who is in the coaches' good graces.

"Your chance will always come back around," Barnes said Tuesday. "A lot of people I talked to told me to keep my head up and keep working hard and everything would turn back around."

Barnes is expected to start Saturday when the 23rd-ranked Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) host Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-4) for a 7 p.m. kickoff (ESPNU).

The redshirt sophomore from Charlotte illustrates the cyclical nature of the receiving corps this season, as the group works to replace the production of Kenny McKinley and Jared Cook.

It's requiring bits and pieces from everyone to account for the combined 91 catches, 1,215 yards and seven touchdowns McKinley and Cook amassed last season.

It's essentially been a different receiver every week to try his hand at making up for those voids.

The Gamecocks have had three different 100-yard receivers so far in seven games.

Redshirt freshman Tori Gurley had four catches for 100 yards against Florida Atlantic. Gurley had been targeted numerous times on early season deep throws. Some fell incomplete and others were called back after penalties. The Rock Hill native had three touchdowns taken off the board by flags.

As soon as you presumed the 6-5 Gurley was making headway toward becoming the No. 1 receiver, he gradually slid into the shadows.

Gurley barely touched the field against Alabama, making some wonder what happened.

As it turns out, it was more about what freshman Alshon Jeffery had done to push him rather than what Gurley had done wrong.

Gurley and Jeffery play the same receiver position, and there are no plans to move either one as of now. But Gurley has been working extra on his routes after practice this week.

"He'll be back. He's going to play this week," receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said Monday. "We wanted to give Alshon a chance, and we gave it to him. Tori will be fine. He'll get a shot to play."

Spurrier Jr. said he'd like to see Gurley and Jeffery get about 30-40 snaps each every game.

After fumbling on the second play of the South Carolina State game, senior Moe Brown rebounded for a terrific third quarter in a six-catch, 100-yard, two-touchdown night.

Brown was the player many expected to emerge to replace McKinley. But he's not quite big enough to slip into that Sidney Rice, jump-ball role.

That's the job that's been juggled by Gurley and Jeffery, who made his big splash two weeks ago against Kentucky.

Against the depleted Wildcats, Jeffery made seven catches for 138 yards and three TDs.

The plays had some -- including some on the coaching staff -- mentioning Rice's name in comparison. Rice is excelling this season with Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings.

Believing there could be more deep-ball magic against the then-No. 2 Tide, head coach Steve Spurrier and Spurrier Jr. called for five different fade plays to Jeffery. Two resulted in overthrows and three were defended well by Alabama.

But there's a general gravitation toward Jeffery in the offense right now. He didn't haul in any of those fades against the Tide, but the St. Matthews product did make four catches for 83 yards.

Jeffery took an 8-or-so-yard reception and turned it into a 52-yarder that set up a USC field goal. He also had a big catch on a third-down slant, an audible from quarterback Stephen Garcia.

He was running -- and making catches in -- different kinds of routes, a switch from earlier in the season.

"He's pretty intelligent. He grasps the game well," Spurrier Jr. said of Jeffery. "He's going to be fine. He's got a lot to learn and you learn by doing. He's really got, hopefully, a really bright future ahead of him."

USC nearly had a fourth 100-yard receiver. Tight end Weslye Saunders was close at Georgia (eight catches, 96 yards).

This week, the Gamecocks will definitely be without Brown, who suffered a concussion at Alabama. And they'll probably be missing Saunders, whose sprained ankle flared up earlier this week at practice.

That throws the door open for the younger, widely unproven receivers as they face an underrated Vanderbilt pass defense that's currently second in the league (133.6 yards a game), ahead of even South Carolina.

When Brown went down, Barnes jumped into his position on the field, even though he hadn't practiced there during the week.

That caught the coaches' eyes. So did his six catches for 46 yards. Garcia also missed Barnes on what would've been a game-tying 28-yard touchdown.

It's going to take those plays, Barnes said, for the Gamecocks to be successful the rest of the way.

"We pride ourselves on the game coming down to us," he said. "We think we're going to have to make plays to win every game this season."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com and check out the South Carolina blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks.