South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is aware of the task at hand for the Gamecocks in the Independence Bowl – stop Miami running back Duke Johnson.
It might be a larger challenge for USC than most. The Gamecocks finished the season 13th in the SEC, allowing 214.4 yards rushing per game.
Johnson has rushed for 1,520 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He’s second on the team with 33 receptions that have gone for 370 yards.
“It’s hard to do,” Ward said of stopping Johnson. “Any time you have a guy that is the leading rusher in Miami history, you have to be a really, really good running back. They do a good job of running the stretch zone, and he does a great job of cutting back. We have our work cut out. Hopefully, we’ll be up for it.”
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USC received signed financial aid papers from DT Dexter Wideman and LB Sherrod Pittman on Thursday, the eighth and ninth players expected to enroll in January.
Wideman, who signed with the Gamecocks last year, wasn’t admitted to school and spent the fall semester at Camden Military School to improve his academics.
“We have help coming in January, and the headliner is probably Dexter Wideman,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after Thursday’s practice. “Dexter is on board now. He’s another defensive player that we think is going to help us a lot. There are several other players on the list also.”
USC received signed letters-of-intent from junior-college players DE Marquavius Lewis, LB Ernest Hawkins and LB Ulric Jones on Wednesday. The program also received signed financial aid papers from WR Jerad Washington, TE Christian Owens, LB Jalen Henry and DB Darin Smalls. The difference between the two documents is the first three are bound to the school and the others aren’t.
Pittman, Washington, Owens, Henry, Smalls and Wideman are free to enroll in January, in the summer, or enroll at another school if they choose. By signing the documents, USC is allowed to speak about them publicly and talk to them during a recruiting dead period, but the players are not bound to USC.
Indications are that all six will enroll at USC in January.
USC’s failures on kickoff returns have been documented. The Gamecocks finished last in the SEC this year with 18.8 yards per return, completing a five-year swing during which they went from 11th to seventh to ninth back to 11th and now 14th. Matthew Thomas remains the last Gamecock to return a kickoff for a touchdown, doing so in 2002.
Primary returner Shon Carson didn’t know what to say when asked why the Gamecocks can’t get consistently good returns, finally settling on better kickers.
“Not really getting any reps, because most teams kick it in the back of the end zone,” Carson said. “I think they need to move it back a little bit so we can get a return.”
Carson averaged 20.2 yards on 30 returns this season.
Senior offensive guard A.J. Cann continued to garner postseason honors on Thursday. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Bamberg native was a first-team All-SEC pick and second-team All-America selection by Phil Steele.
Cann has been named first team All-America by Sporting News, ESPN.com and CBSSportsline.com. He was a second-team All-American by Walter Camp, Associated Press, FWAA ans Sports Illustrated.
Joining Cann on the first team All-SEC was WR Pharoh Cooper. The sophomore from Havelock, N.C., was third in the SEC in receptions (60), second in receiving yards (966), fourth in receptions per game (5.0) and 10th in all-purpose yards per game (103.5).
Sophomore kicker Elliott Fry was picked for the third-team All-SEC. He connected on 17 of 22 field goals and made all 48 of his extra point attempts to lead the team in scoring with 99 points.
RT Brandon Shell missed his second consecutive day with a right shoulder injury. Coach Steve Spurrier said Shell could be cleared to practice on Friday.
Others who did not practice or wore yellow jerseys were: OL Donell Stanley (left wrist), RG Mike Matulis (right knee) and TE Rory Anderson (left tricep).