South Carolina is making several personnel changes for Saturday’s game against UCF with some moves being made due to injuries and some being made due to performance.
Starting wide receiver Deebo Samuel will miss Saturday’s game after injuring his hamstring in practice this week. He is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by true freshman D.J. Neal, who Steve Spurrier said on his call-in show had a strong week of practice.
“He practiced better this week than he ever has since he’s been here,” Spurrier said. “I think he’s learning you’ve got to block downfield. You’ve got to run your routes full-speed. He’s probably the starter at the other position other than Pharoh (Cooper).”
In addition, Brandon Wilds and Alan Knott will not play against the Knights due to injuries. Spurrier said they could be back next week.
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Defensively, cornerback Rashad Fenton, who was a candidate for more playing time, will miss the first half against UCF because of missed classes.
“Somehow or another we have a tough time convincing players that you go to class here,” Spurrier said. “So Rashad will need to get his act together and play the second half or not play much here.”
Also, according to defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, David Johnson will start at defensive end over Cedrick Cooper, and true freshman defensive end Shameik Blackshear will make his debut as a Gamecock. Spurrier confirmed that Blackshear will play and added that they are looking to give several guys a chance to go out and see what they can do.
“We’re going to play him this week and see if he can do anything,” Spurrier said of Blackshear. “We’re at the point right now where you play everybody. Defensively we’re ranked at the bottom of the conference in about every statistic, so we’ve got to play everybody and see if we can’t make something happen.”
Skai at Will or Mike?
USC’s defensive coaches said this week that Skai Moore will play Will linebacker against UCF and T.J. Holloman will replace Moore at Mike, but that was news to Spurrier, who said he likes Moore where he is.
“I think Skai’s probably going to stay where he’s been because he’s having a heck of a year, three interceptions, leads the team in tackles, so hopefully we’re smart enough to leave him there,” Spurrier said.
Looking for a spark
Spurrier said the decision to start Lorenzo Nunez at quarterback was a joint decision made by the offensive coaching staff.
“We need a spark. We need something to happen,” Spurrier said. “We need a spark on defense obviously also. It was sort of a coaching staff decision, ultimately mine. We all agree as an offensive staff, let’s put him in there and start him and see what happens.”
Mixing up coverages
Spurrier said he spoke with co-defensive coordinators Ward and Jon Hoke this week and expressed a need to do a better job of mixing up coverages in an effort to confuse the offense.
“I’m going to try to be a better head coach and look in on everything,” he said. “We can’t just line up now a days and say, ‘Here’s our defense. Give us your play. We’re going to stop you.’ Nah, we’ve got to slant, we’ve got to bring some blitzes, we’ve got to do this, that and the other. That’s college football, that’s football everywhere. Hopefully we’re going to give them some different looks this week.”
▪ Spurrier said he has no plans to step down as the South Carolina head coach anytime soon.
“I got three more years on my contract and it pays pretty good, so we’re not planning on tossing in the towel,” he said.
▪ In addition to struggling to tackle and cover, Spurrier said there is a fire that is missing from his team. He mentioned D.J. Swearinger as a guy who would always get the Gamecocks fired up.
“D.J. would go out in warm-ups and catch the balls from the other team’s punter and throw ’em at them, and stuff like that,” Spurrier said. “He’d talk a little trash.”
▪ Players who were injured or wore yellow jerseys were: cornerback Chris Lammons (knee), running back Brandon Wilds (ribs), cornerback Chaz Elder (ribs), tight end Connor Redmond (back), quarterback Gage Pucci (knee), safety Antoine Wilder (right knee sprain) and center Cody Waldrop (ankle). quarterback Connor Mitch (shoulder) is out three-to-five weeks and center Alan Knott (sprained left ankle) is out for at least this week. Wide receiver Shaq Davidson (knee) and Wide receiver Jerad Washington (left leg) are out for the season.
Staff writer David Cloninger contributed to this report.