As usual, Ellis Johnson's weekly chat with reporters Thursday turned into another personnel update.
Because of injuries and suspensions, Johnson, USC's assistant head coach for defense, has fielded a different starting lineup in each of the Gamecocks' five games. Saturday's game against Kentucky will be the sixth lineup.
JUCO transfer Josh Dickerson will make his first career start at middle linebacker in place of Shaq Wilson, who practiced on a limited basis most of the week with a neck injury.
Wilson will be available to play against the Wildcats, but Dickerson will become the third player to start at middle linebacker. Rodney Paulk was lost for the year in the opener at N.C. State after tearing a knee ligament.
Dickerson, who transferred from Georgia Military in January and went through spring practice, has 19 tackles - the most among USC's reserves.
Defensive end Clifton Geathers will make his first start of the season in place of Devin Taylor, USC coach Steve Spurrier said on his call-in show Thursday. Geathers has 13 tackles in four games since missing the opener due to suspension.
Johnson is counting on a couple of backup cornerbacks to step in for suspended starter Akeem Auguste, who is sitting the second game of an expected three-game suspension.
Sophomore C.C. Whitlock will start at field corner for the second consecutive week, while freshman D.J. Swearinger will spell Whitlock and boundary corner Stephon Gilmore.
Though Kentucky is ranked among the country's worst passing teams, Johnson said Whitlock and Gilmore will be tested more than they were last week against S.C. State.
"I have full confidence in them. But you're going into the SEC slate and you've got the kind of depth problems we've got, you're always a little nervous," Johnson said. "But as far as those guys, I have a lot of confidence in them."
Auguste update. Johnson said Auguste will be eligible for the Vanderbilt game Oct. 24 as long as he complies with a number of university-imposed stipulations. Auguste's suspension stems from a non-academic violation of team and university policy.
"He's got a pretty good slate he's got to work on. If he hits all the right bases, we get him back. If he doesn't, there's no telling what happens," Johnson said. "He has certain things he has to comply with, or he'll never be back."
Bad break. After less-than-capacity crowds at the first three home games, Spurrier implored students to return from fall break for Saturday's game.
"We're on fall break here - a little unusual. We're out of school here Thursday and (today)," Spurrier said. "But hopefully all of 'em will come back and do their part cheering our guys on."
Purr-fect vs. the Wildcats. Spurrier's 16-0 mark against Kentucky is the third-longest undefeated streak by a FBS coach against one school. Penn State's Joe Paterno has the top two marks - 26-0 vs. Temple and 24-0-1 vs. Maryland.
Extra points. Quintin Richardson, who started the first four games at right tackle, lost 10 pounds - to 270 - while battling the flu last week. "He looks like a tight end trying to play tackle right now," Spurrier said. ... Spurrier said guard Heath Batchelor was out of the lineup last week because of missed classes. Batchelor is slated to start at left guard. ... Center Garrett Anderson, who missed a day with a back injury, returned Thursday. But fifth-year center Lemuel Jeanpierre still is expected to start.