Ellis Johnson looks at his secondary and shakes his head.
“We’ve got some major problems guys,” South Carolina’s assistant head coach for defense said Thursday after the No. 10 Gamecocks’ final full-scale practice before Saturday’s game against Navy.
The foremost among those in Johnson’s mind is health. Senior cornerback Akeem Auguste, a projected starter in the preseason, won’t play for “weeks,” Johnson said, after aggravating his left foot injury against Georgia last week.
He joins freshman safety Brison Williams on the sideline. Williams also was looking like a starter before breaking his arm during a preseason scrimmage, Johnson said.
Under normal circumstances, South Carolina would be thinking about redshirting both players at this point. These aren’t normal circumstances, Johnson said.
“We may not have the luxury to decide to hold them,” he said.
Williams was thought to be out for the season, but he removed his cast Thursday and could be ready in two to three weeks, Johnson said.
“We’d certainly prefer to redshirt him if he doesn’t play but two or three games, but some decisions may be have to be made,” he said.
The South Carolina secondary can use all the help it can get. The Gamecocks are last in the SEC in pass defense.
At least one member of the secondary is losing his starting job this week. Free safety Jimmy Legree will be replaced as DeVonte Holloman moves from spur to starting strong safety and regular strong safety D.J. Swearinger moves to free safety. Marty Markett may replace C.C. Whitlock as a starting cornerback as well, but no final decision has been made, Johnson said.
“A lot of our inconsistency is coming from fatigue,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of guys on that perimeter who are playing 75-85 plays a game including defense and special teams. That’s part of the problem. We don’t have good rotation. We don’t have good competition for jobs back there, and it’s hurting the play back there.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Vic Hampton will help if he can return from suspension as planned in time to play against Vanderbilt on Sept. 24.
“He’s proven until he’s back, he ain’t back,” Johnson said. “We’ve still got eight and a half days before he can play. In past experience with a lot of guys around here, they sometimes do things more than once. Hopefully, he won’t.”
Freshman cornerback Martay Mattox won’t play this week, Johnson said.
“He’s too inconsistent,” Johnson said.
NO COACHING CHANGES
Head coach Steve Spurrier was so tough on his team’s passing defense during his call-in show on 107.5 The Game on Thursday night that a fan called in and asked if he would consider coaching changes after the season if it didn’t improve.
“No, we are not looking at any coaching changes,” Spurrier said. “We are looking at teaching our guys how to play the game. We are trying to learn what we can call that our guys can do. We have a great coaching staff, tremendous recruiters. Our players have to be more accountable to do what we’re trying to do.”
The Gamecocks have played five straight games away from home, their longest stretch since the final three games of the 2008 season and the first two games of the 2009 season.
“We’re anxious to get home this year and play in front of our crowd,” Spurrier said. “It’s always a big night when we have a home game. But we’re thinking about playing football a little bit better, that’s what we’re thinking about right now. Trying to block, tackle, throw, catch, all those kinds of things.”
Offensive lineman Terrence Campbell said the team “can’t wait” to play at home.
“The crowd noise on the road has been a major factor,” Campbell said.
CLOWNEY, CLOWNEY, CLOWNEY
South Carolina’s defensive coaches continue to help praise on freshman end Jadeveon Clowney.
“He’s humble; he wants to learn,” defensive line coach Brad Lawing said. “I have said that over and over again, but I can’t emphasize that enough. He is eager to be the best that he can be. A lot of guys with that recruiting background he has aren’t like that. They think they have all the answers. He’s a pleasure to coach. He is learning how to give great effort all the time.”
Ellis Johnson after practice Thursday