T.J. Gurley entered last week’s game against North Carolina in the first quarter after starting strong safety Kadetrix Marcus went down with a dislocated shoulder. The sophomore backup made certain the South Carolina defense didn’t skip a beat.
By posting a team-high nine tackles, Gurley earned plaudits in helping the Gamecocks hold the high-powered Tar Heels to 10 points and 293 yards.
“We gave T.J. a game ball,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “I think he led the team in tackles, nine or 10 tackles, something like that. He played his position well. T.J.’s a good, solid player. He played well last week.”
USC coaches knew the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Cairo, Ga., native had the ability to make plays. Gurley showed as much in an injury-shortened first season, when he earned a spot on the SEC’s all-freshman team as voted by the league’s coaches.
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Last Thursday, he gave the first indication that he’s fully recovered from the knee injury suffered in the 2012 Florida game while covering a punt. Until that point, he had 13 tackles in eight games while working in the secondary and on special teams.
During his rehabilitation period, he watched film even when he couldn’t get on the field. So his 2013 debut didn’t surprise his teammates on defene.
“He’s a guy who works hard, and he’s always going to be ready. I believe in T.J.,” senior defensive end Chaz Sutton said. “He’s a young guy who came to this program last year and worked his butt off every day. I used to go in there for extra workouts on Saturdays and Sundays, and he was in there with me, also trying to get better.”
Gurley said he wasn’t nervous against the Tar Heels.
“I had to go in and show what I could do,” he said. “It was no pressure.”
The pressure might be a little more intense this weekend, when the No. 6 Gamecocks (1-0) travel to Athens to face No. 11 Georgia (0-1) at Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs are coming off a 38-35 loss to Clemson, and they have a three-game losing streak to USC. It is the SEC opener for both teams.
“They’re going to come out and play their hardest,” Gurley said.
The Bulldogs present problems in the form of a passing game led by quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for 323 yards last week, and a running game led by tailback Todd Gurley, who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns last week.
“Really, we’ve just got to stop No. 3, Todd Gurley. We’ve got to hit him before he gets started. When he gets started, he’s a real big back, and he can make holes,” T.J. Gurley said.
But he’s less concerned about the Bulldogs’ air attack, which will be missing wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell because of a knee injury sustained in the Clemson game.
“If we can’t stop the running game, it’s going to be a long night,” Gurley said.
Gurley certainly will be doing his part to put together a repeat performance of the season’s first week.
He’s taking it all in stride, though. He said the coaches haven’t been too effusive in their praise.
“They’re not supposed to do that. They don’t want you to get the big head,” Gurley said. “I’ve just got to keep going out there and proving to them that I can play.”