USC had stayed nearly injury-free all season.
Then, during one play in the third quarter of a 27-6 victory against Tennessee, the Gamecocks had three offensive players sprawled out in front of the USC sideline with injuries, although only one appears serious.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia and offensive guard Lemuel Jeanpierre underwent MRIs on their right knees Sunday; results are expected today.
USC coach Steve Spurrier believes Jeanpierre’s injury is the most severe and could sideline the redshirt junior for the rest of the season. Garcia was hurt when tackle Jarriel King collided with him while chasing Eric Berry following an interception. But Garcia should be OK, according to Spurrier.
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“I think Stephen’s going to be fine. He sort of got bruised pretty good,” Spurrier said Sunday. “Lem got the worst of all of it in that.”
Freshman tailback Eric Baker sustained a thigh bruise on the play when Jeanpierre ran into him trying to tackle Berry. Baker is questionable for Saturday’s game against Arkansas.
Finally, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn re-injured his surgically repaired left foot, which he has in a protective boot. Munnerlyn broke a bone in the foot last year against Arkansas. Spurrier said there were no fractures this time, and Munnerlyn should be OK after keeping the foot immobilized.
Marvin Sapp: The senior is often overlooked on a linebacker corps that includes Jasper Brinkley and Eric Norwood. But Sapp tied for the team lead with six tackles and had his first career sack.
Offensive line: The front five still does not get a lot of push on running plays. But two weeks after allowing six sacks in a loss to LSU, the line gave up one against the Vols.
Spencer Lanning: The redshirt sophomore averaged 45 yards on a career-high eight punts, as many times as Lanning had punted over the previous three games combined. Lanning had a long of 52 yards and put three punts inside the 20-yard line.
What went right
The defense never let Tennessee get any momentum, tightening up every time the Vols threatened. Anyone waiting for the defense to implode as it did last year should not hold his breath. ... USC might not have gained many yards, but sticking with the running game helped the Gamecocks win time of possession by five minutes.
What went wrong
The Gamecocks converted only 4-of-17 third downs and finished with 11 first downs, their fewest since picking up 10 first downs in a 15-0 win against Mississippi State in 2006. ... Kenny McKinley was the only wide receiver to catch a pass. Tight end Jared Cook, the team’s leading receiver, was held without a catch for the first time this season.
The postgame talk about a New Year’s Day bowl game is not far-fetched. With bowl mainstays Tennessee and Auburn having down years, the Gamecocks could be competing with teams like Kentucky and Mississippi — both of which lost to USC — for spots in the Outback and Chick-fil-A bowls, respectively.
“We want to get to a great bowl,” Munnerlyn said. “There ain’t nothing wrong with going to the Liberty Bowl. But we want something better.”
After watching the Tennessee video, Spurrier still believes USC were aligned properly on the “tackle eligible” play to tight end Weslye Saunders. USC was whistled for an illegal formation, negating Saunders’ touchdown catch.
Spurrier also said it appeared a Vols defensive end was offsides on the play that resulted in USC’s three injuries. “He got a big jump. It could have been called, but wasn’t,” Spurrier said. ...
With Baker questionable, Bobby Wallace should see more practice time this week. Wallace had four carries for 16 yards against Tennessee.
Arkansas’ Michael Smith is the SEC’s leading rusher with 123.4 yards per game. But when Tulsa ganged up on Smith (23 carries for 67 yards), Hogs quarterback Casey Dick proved he could carry the offense, Dick completed 65 percent of his passes for 385 yards, 2 yards shy of the school record.
— Joseph Person