COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s season opener against Vanderbilt is two weeks from tonight in Nashville, Tenn. On Wednesday night at Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks held a scrimmage that was the public’s last chance to see them until then.
From here on out, all practices and scrimmages, including Saturday morning’s, will be closed to the public and media. Fans saw some positive signs Wednesday, highlighted by running back Marcus Lattimore’s five carries for 23 yards. Lattimore, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury suffered Oct. 15, got some of the loudest applause Wednesday.
“There wasn’t a lot of blocking and wasn’t a lot of holes in there,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said, as he praised how Lattimore hit those few holes, against the first-team defense, no less. “I haven’t talked to him about anything much except: ‘Are you ready to play?’ And he says yes. He demonstrated that he is ready to play.”
Spurrier said Kenny Miles is definitely the No. 2 tailback. There is playing time available behind Miles, because Brandon Wilds will be out another week or two with a sprained ankle. That could mean more opportunities for Shon Carson. Miles had five carries for 18 yards and a five-yard touchdown Wednesday. Carson had two carries for two yards.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said trainers have told him that starting cornerback Akeem Auguste will be ready Friday to return from a groin injury. If that’s the case, Ward said he will probably hold Auguste out until Monday, and will re-insert Auguste into the starting spot.
“I just want to make sure that he’s 100 percent healed, because if he re-injures it then he’s going to be out a while,” Ward said. Auguste missed all of last season with a foot injury.
Spurrier raised some eyebrows in the college football world recently when he said USC was tinkering with playing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at middle linebacker in certain situations.
Defensive line coach Brad Lawing clarified that it’s not a true middle linebacker spot, but rather, a role in his “spinner package” that ends Eric Norwood and Melvin Ingram previously played. Playing an end in a standup position — rather than on the line, where he would be in a three-point stance — gives USC versatility to exploit one-on-one mismatches in pass rush situations.
“We’ll stand him up and move him around, but it’s not a middle linebacker,” Lawing said. “We plug him into the pass rush from a standup position. I’ll ID the (offense’s) protection and then we use that guy as a picker, move him around sometimes. He may be standing up the middle. He may be over a tackle or guard. It’s pretty effective, and he’s got those kinds of skills (similar to Norwood and Ingram).”
Size won’t alter plans
USC’s wide receiver group skews smaller this year with the absence of 6-4 Alshon Jeffery, who is now with the Chicago Bears.
The Gamecocks do have 6-4 K.J. Brent and 6-5 D.L. Moore, but both are unproven. Three of their top receivers — Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd — are 5-8, 5-9 and 5-9. Another receiver battling for playing time, Nick Jones, is 5-7.
Other than Brent and Moore, the biggest receivers who seem to have a legitimate chance of playing are 6-1 DeAngelo Smith, 6-1 Shamier Jeffery and 6-1 Shaq Roland.
Will USC’s surplus of smaller receivers result in the coaches relying more heavily on different routes than they did last year, when Jeffery was their primary target?
“You can a little,” said quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. “Maybe there are some you would go to more often than maybe we have in the past. But they’re all capable of running most all the routes in our offense. We’ve given them the opportunity to do that here in camp and they’ve done well thus far.”