South Carolina cornerback Akeem Auguste excited about return from injuries
COLUMBIA — South Carolina cornerback Akeem Auguste’s roommate is his younger brother, Kareem, a walk-on redshirt freshman safety for the Gamecocks. Akeem expected that by the end of this week, Kareem would tire of hearing him talk about returning to the field.
Here’s a look at what could make the difference when No. 6 South Carolina plays at Kentucky tonight:
MAXWELL SMITH’S HEALTH
Kentucky’s quarterback is dealing with a sprained joint in his throwing shoulder and missed last week’s loss at Florida. The Wildcats’ other options are Morgan Newton, who played like hot garbage at Florida, and true freshman Jalen Whitlow. If USC’s fearsome defensive line gets a solid hit on Smith and knocks him out of the game, that could end things quickly for Kentucky.
A FAST START
In its past 17 games, Kentucky has not scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. During that span, the Wildcats have been outscored 112-28 in the first quarter. This season, Kentucky has been outscored 21-0 in the first quarter and USC has outscored its opponents 28-3.
BIG RUNNING PLAYS
Kentucky has struggled mightily against the run. The Wildcats have allowed 22 runs of 10-plus yards, which ranks No. 95 on the national list of fewest such plays allowed. Overall, Kentucky ranks No. 101 nationally in rush defense (192.3 yards allowed per game). USC tailback Marcus Lattimore could make the Wildcats’ run defense look foolish again.
USC is a 21-point favorite. Between the Wildcats’ struggling defense and Smith’s uncertain health, the only way USC loses this game is if it has both eyes on next week’s huge home meeting with Georgia.
South Carolina 38, Kentucky 14
--- Darryl Slater
“He can’t shut me up at home,” Auguste said. “I just need to get my chance, man, so I can go in and prove myself again. Everybody forgot about me.
“Why wouldn’t they? I haven’t played in a very long time.
“I’m going to be excited. It’s been about how many games? Probably like 18 games I missed. I am just ready to get out there and hit somebody, catch a pick, do something.”
Auguste was almost correct. He hasn’t played since last season’s second game, against Georgia — a span of 15 games. That was the only game he played last season, when he redshirted with a foot injury. This preseason, a groin injury nagged him. Then he aggravated it in an Aug. 18 scrimmage and missed the first four games, meaning he has appeared in just one of USC’s past 17 games since the beginning of the 2011 season.
So you can’t blame him if he feels forgotten, despite starting nine games in 2009 and 10 in 2010. His fifth-year senior season will finally begin tonight at Kentucky.
Though defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Auguste is 100 percent, he wants to ease Auguste back into action and expects him to get 15 to 18 plays. Jimmy Legree will start again, and the job is his to lose.
“Jimmy’s the starting corner and Akeem is his backup until he proves that he can play better than Jimmy,” Ward said. “That’s the way it is. Akeem understands that.”
Auguste just wants to play again. Before his groin injury, he was set to bring experience to a secondary that returned just one starter, free safety D.J. Swearinger, and was trying to replace corner Stephon Gil-more, the No. 10 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Legree has played well as Auguste’s replacement, but Auguste wanted a chance to win his job back beginning with last week’s game against Missouri. He said he felt 100 percent last week.
“I begged them to play last week,” he said. “They wouldn’t let me.”
Auguste never had a layoff this long in his football career. He said he is still “a little rusty” and expects conditioning to be his biggest hurdle, especially “after somebody takes me deep, having to come back and do it all over again.”
But he stayed as sharp as possible by defending receiver Ace Sanders every day in one-on-one drills.
“That’s the fastest person in our league, I feel like,” Auguste said.
“If he isn’t going to get me ready, I don’t know who is.”
Auguste has nine pass breakups and zero interceptions in his career, which began with great promise. He was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 14 corner in the country coming out of high school in Hollywood, Fla. This season is his last chance to cash in that potential.
USC has gotten steady play from its corners so far — sophomore Victor Hampton is the other new starter — and secondary coach Grady Brown said that, against Missouri’s quick passing attack, “the corners played probably the most disciplined game that they’ve played all year.”
Because of that, and the nature of Auguste’s injury, he probably won’t play a major role tonight, as he prepares to begin what he called “a major comeback.”