CHARLOTTE — They even get hurt when they aren’t practicing.
Will Muschamp announced Thursday that yet another South Carolina defensive starter is out for the Belk Bowl. Corner Keisean Nixon will miss the game with a fracture in his neck.
“Something that he had some issues with his shoulder, had had some numbness,” Muschamp said during a Belk Bowl press conference. “We ended up doing a CAT scan and found it after our last ballgame.”
South Carolina has been off since Dec. 1, trying to rest and recover for the Dec. 29 game against Virginia at Bank of American Stadium. A defense that couldn’t keep a healthy secondary or defensive line all year still lost Nixon during the break, and defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw.
Kinlaw was reported out for the game a week ago and Muschamp confirmed it Thursday. He tore a hip labral that required surgery. He probably could have waited until after the bowl to have surgery but it would have delayed his preparation for his senior season.
Kinlaw started every game while Nixon started 11. Kinlaw led the team with 4.5 sacks and tied for second with 10 tackles for loss, also breaking up five passes, forcing two fumbles and blocking a kick. Nixon led the team with nine passes broken up and was fourth with 63 tackles.
It’s nothing new for the Gamecocks, who have had to plug holes in the lineup all season. The good news was top edge rusher Bryson Allen-Williams, starting nickel Jaycee Horn, starting defensive lineman Keir Thomas and backup safety Jaylin Dickerson will play in Charlotte, and defensive lineman Aaron Sterling is a possibility.
“I really appreciate the mentality of our football team and how our guys have managed adversity,” Muschamp said.
Freshman Israel Mukuamu could play some corner in place of Nixon, with Horn able to play nickel or corner. The Gamecocks are also likely to go with what they did for the fourth quarter of the Akron game along the offensive line.
Left guard Zack Bailey broke his left fibula against the Zips and is out for the bowl game. Center Donell Stanley slid to left guard to replace Bailey and Summerville’s Chandler Farrell replaced Stanley at center.
As for the absence of Deebo Samuel, who elected to skip the game to begin his NFL training, Muschamp said several times he understood the decision and 100 percent supported Samuel. It does leave a hole in USC’s offense, though.
Shi Smith can step into that outside receiver role, but can also play inside, as can Josh Vann. A.J. Turner, Rico Dowdle and Smith are candidates to take Samuel’s place at kickoff return.
The Gamecocks begin bowl practice Monday and will go through Dec. 22. They’ll be off Dec. 23-24, then meet in Charlotte on Christmas Night.
Wonnum could get medical redshirt
Defensive end D.J. Wonnum will not play in the Belk Bowl, which was expected after he reinjured the ankle that kept him out most of the early season. USC will apply for a medical redshirt for him, but if Wonnum has a great season next year, he would likely go pro and not play the extra year anyway.
Hinson a two-sport star
Tight end Evan Hinson played the last two games with USC’s basketball team. The basketball Gamecocks host Virginia on Dec. 19, during USC bowl practice, but it’s a possibility that Hinson could practice football in the morning and play basketball that night.
“He did that last year,” Muschamp said. “He’s doing a really good job academically. It is very difficult what he’s doing.”
Ready to move
USC will move into its new football operations center on Jan. 7. The semester begins Jan. 14.