He’ll play, and that’s good.
But Victor Hampton was just too beaten up to retain either of his starting spots.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward announced on Thursday that Ahmad Christian would start at cornerback against No. 11 Georgia on Saturday, and normal starting kickoff returner Bruce Ellington would take Hampton’s spot at punt returner. Hampton played most of USC’s 27-10 season-opening win against North Carolina, but was rung up with a head-to-head hit during the game.
He missed Tuesday’s practice and only lightly practiced on Wednesday, so Christian got the call to start at corner. The redshirt sophomore had three tackles against the Tar Heels and is slated to start his first career game.
“Ahmad’s going to start, because Victor only really practiced [Thursday],” Ward said. “But I think he’s getting better. (As for punt return), I think we’re going to relieve him of those duties for a while. He understands.”
Ward didn’t know who would take over for Ellington at kickoff return, although he did think that it wouldn’t be Ellington doing both. Ellington is also slated to start his first game of the season.
Georgia tailback Todd Gurley is strong, fast and electric. He galloped for 154 yards in his season-opener, sprinting past the Clemson defense for one 75-yard touchdown run.
Ward, asked to compare him to backs he’s seen, threw out two names just to start – Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.
“He breaks a lot of arm tackles, real strong in the lower body,” Ward said. “We’ve got to make sure we wrap him up. I told the guys in the perimeter, we can’t hit him high. You hit him high, he’ll keep going. We’ve got to play on his ankles.”
Gurley only had 13 carries for 39 yards in last year’s 35-7 USC win. He’s also coming off a quadriceps injury that hindered him a bit against Clemson. Gurley should be completely healthy for Saturday.
“He’s a big powerful guy that we’ve got to track,” Ward said. “He gets in the open field, he’s going the distance. We’ve got to stop him from hitting the ball downhill, and we’ve got to do that by playing on that side of the ball.”
Gurley will get his touches, but quarterback Aaron Murray is the engineer of the Bulldogs’ offense. Ward knows that Murray is also feeling the pressure to win, after failing to beat USC in each of the previous three years.
“We always want affect the quarterback. He makes his team go,” Ward said. “Just like killing a snake. Only way to kill him is to cut his head off.”
Ward is completely comfortable with T.J. Gurley starting at strong safety, as Kadetrix “J.J.” Marcus continues to recover from a separated shoulder. Even though Gurley had a knee injury last year, he came in against UNC and led the Gamecocks in tackles.
“We thought T.J. would win this job if he was 100 percent healthy anyway,” Ward said. “We know he’s a good football player. Kadetrix got hurt, so he got to play a lot sooner than expected. But I think he’ll fare well. We don’t have any problem with T.J. playing.”
Chris Moody will back up Gurley. Chaz Elder will back up Brison Williams at free safety.
Back in action
Linebacker Cedrick Cooper will play against Georgia, but won’t start. He was listed as third-string at weakside linebacker behind Marcquis Roberts and Skai Moore.
Cooper missed the UNC game while still recovering from a dislocated elbow.
Center Cody Waldrop was still on crutches at Thursday’s practice. Steve Spurrier said on his call-in radio show on Thursday that Waldrop may be able to play, and he will try to see what he can do during Friday’s walk-through.
"No indication right now, but our trainers say there's a chance,” Spurrier said. “He can't hurt his foot any more."
The injury is painful, but Waldrop can’t hurt himself worse. Clayton Stadnik is ready to go if Waldrop can’t play, and true freshman Alan Knott, Spurrier said, has looked good in practice. Knott is from Tyrone, Ga.
Players who did not practice or wore yellow jerseys were: Waldrop (foot), Marcus (shoulder), Devin Washington (concussion), Carlton Heard (hamstring), Gerald Turner (ankle) and Mike Matulis (shoulder). Ward said that Washington should be returning to practice very soon.
The Gamecocks will have a walk-through (closed to the public) and then leave for Georgia on Friday.