In the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Georgia, 300-pound South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw rumbled 11 yards downfield to tackle Bulldogs wide receiver Mecole Hardman.
Kinlaw, a sophomore who transferred in the offseason from Jones Junior College, couldn’t have done that in the first week of the season. There are lots of things Kinlaw couldn’t have done then that he’s doing with regularity now, and that has been a big boost for South Carolina’s defense.
“He’s huge, the run support, helping me and T.J. (Brunson) run sideline to sideline, him taking up space and keeping blockers off us is huge, and he makes plays himself as well,” linebacker Skai Moore said. “He’s a big part of our defense.”
The problem is that when Kinlaw came in he was too big. At 340 pounds when he stepped on campus, Kinlaw couldn’t have played more than 20 snaps in a game the first week of the season, he said, and he certainly couldn’t have chased down Hardman.
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“I can feel it (the weight loss), I can feel it when I try to run down and catch those guys that catch them little short passes,” he said.
Kinlaw played 45 snaps against the Bulldogs, and he probably will have to play more against Florida (3-5, 3-4) on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium if starting defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth (concussion) can’t play. The Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3) host the Gators at noon in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Kinlaw was lobbying head coach Will Muschamp for more playing time as the two entered the building together Tuesday morning before practice, Muschamp said.
“I've been really proud of him, the way he's approached things, his work ethic,” Muschamp said. “He's just a delight to have around.”
The 6-foot-6 Kinlaw has proven to be the big-bodied interior defensive lineman the Gamecocks were lacking last year. South Carolina’s defensive coaches ask their defensive tackles to occupy two blockers on most plays. Rather than getting up field to make plays on their own, their primary job is keeping offensive linemen busy.
“He's a space eater, he eats two blocks,” Muschamp said. “We coach (the defensive) front a little differently than a lot of teams do as far as how we play. From a standpoint of understanding that if we call a two-fer, it's taking two blocks, it's really important to keep our linebackers clean and free.”
Kinlaw has started the last six games for South Carolina and has 10 tackles, two pass breakups and a blocked field goal.
“I think I have gotten a lot better since fall camp with my weight going down,” he said. “I felt like Saturday was my best game overall, playing blocks, striking blocks, getting off blocks, running to the ball. I just want to get better every week.”
Even at 340 pounds, Kinlaw had enough athletic ability that his teammates have been waiting on this kind of production from him.
“When he came in here and I saw his size and his athletic ability I was thinking he was going to be a good player,” Moore said. “It’s not too much of a surprise where he is right now.”