Ask a South Carolina player how the Gamecocks are going to replace Deebo Samuel and the answer almost certainly will include the phrase, “Next man up,” somewhere in it.
“We just stand on the principles of, ‘Next man up,’ ” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “The next man has to step up and fill in.”
That’s not going to be easy in Samuel’s case. The junior wide receiver has six of South Carolina’s 11 touchdowns this year and was one of the most electric players in the SEC before breaking his leg in the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to Kentucky. He is expected to miss at least five weeks and, possibly, the remainder of the season.
Tight end Hayden Hurst, who could get more passes coming his way now that Samuel is out, started his response to the replacement question with, “Next man up,” but then acknowledged the reality of the situation.
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“I mean, it hurts. The guy’s a playmaker,” Hurst said. “Every time he touches the ball he can score from anywhere on the field. It hurts losing him. Deebo was one of my good buddies, and it hurts me seeing him go down because I know what he puts in. I love him, but he’ll be back.”
Samuel is second in the SEC in all-purpose yardage (158 ypg). He has 15 catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns, two kickoff returns for 194 yards and two touchdowns and two carries for 30 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s not one person who steps in and accomplishes those things. It’s multiple guys, and we certainly have guys that we have confidence in and have the ability to be very effective in what we are trying to do,” coach Will Muschamp said.
Muschamp and several South Carolina players suggested freshmen wide receivers Randrecous Davis, OrTre Smith and Chad Terrell all can expect more action with Samuel out of the lineup. Those players have one catch each so far this season.
Starting slot receiver Shi Smith, a freshman who has eight catches for 70 yards, will also see his role increase, but won’t change positions.
“Shi is going to continue to play in the slot,” Muschamp said.
Sophomore Bryan Edwards is the team’s leading healthy receiver now with 15 catches for 147 yards.
“Man down, man up,” Muschamp said. “It’s an unfortunate situation (for Deebo), but one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.”