COLUMBIA — South Carolina free safety D.J. Swearinger had an eventful Monday almost two months ago, on Sept. 17, two days after the Gamecocks’ win over Alabama-Birmingham. He was suspended by the Southeastern Conference for the next game, against Missouri, for a helmet-to-helmet hit against UAB.
On Monday, two days after one of the most eventful sequences you’ll ever see from a defensive back, Swearinger was not suspended by the SEC, but instead honored. He was named the league’s co-defensive player of the week for his 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in USC’s 38-20 win Saturday over Arkansas.
The touchdown put USC up 31-10 with 10:41 left in the third quarter. It came on the third play of Arkansas’ drive. On the first play, Swearinger was called for a horse-collar tackle personal foul after he yanked down running back Nate Holmes. On the second play, Swearinger was flagged for another personal foul for making contact above the shoulders to a defenseless player after he popped receiver Javontee Herndon as he caught the ball.
The replay showed that Swearinger appeared to lead with his shoulder and hit Herndon in the chest. Whatever contact was made between the two players’ helmets was less blatant than Swearinger’s hit against UAB, which resulted in his suspension. And Swearinger will indeed be available for Saturday’s game against Wofford.
Considering he drew a 15-yard personal foul for throwing the ball into the student section after his touchdown against Arkansas — his third straight play with a 15-yard penalty — he may have set a record in that department as well.
Swearinger is a senior, so he has just three games left in his career, but his suspension in September and high-hit penalty Saturday underscore the emphasis the NCAA is putting on such hits this season to prevent head injuries.
“I told him the thing that he’s probably going to have to do is start tackling people low,” said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. “I think that’s what the game has come to. Now you’re going to see more people getting knee injuries. But that’s where the game is.”
Said Swearinger on the Arkansas hit: “I actually tried to turn and lead with my shoulder, but in the speed of the game, it’s hard for the refs to see that. I think they’ll see that I led with my shoulder. I know I tried to lead with my shoulder. (Against Tennessee in the game before Arkansas), I had a chance to hit a guy across the middle and I went low, so I don’t think it’s a big adjustment. It’s just that I’ve got to put it in my head and go low.”
USC is 18-4 against Wofford and has won 15 straight games over the Terriers, dating to 1917, which was the last time USC traveled to Spartanburg to play Wofford. But eighth-year USC coach Steve Spurrier has two close wins over the Terriers — 27-20 in 2006 and 23-13 in 2008.
Wofford coach Mike Ayers is in his 25th year and has led the Terriers to five Championship Subdivision playoff appearances since 2003, including four appearances in the past five years.
The Terriers and their option offense are led by 5-11, 230-pound senior fullback Eric Breitenstein, who has 188 carries for 1,396 yards (7.4 per carry) and 14 touchdowns.
Wofford has run the ball 525 times this season and thrown 65 times.
Red zone success
Arkansas got into USC’s red zone five times and scored four times, but just two touchdowns.
In 34 opposing red zone trips this season, USC has allowed just 15 touchdowns (including six of seven at Florida). USC is No. 11 nationally with an opposing red zone touchdown percentage of 44.1. USC is No. 19 with an opposing red zone scoring percentage of 73.5.