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Practice report: Johnson tweaks defense

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Steve Spurrier said USC would not make any changes after losing strong safety Emanuel Cook. The Gamecocks haven’t changed much – just their entire defensive scheme.

But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the switch from a three-safety to a three-linebacker package might be a better fit against an Iowa offense that relies heavily on its ground game.

“We’re just going to play three linebackers, 4-3 scheme, and go on with it,” Johnson said Thursday. “And that’d probably be good for Iowa ‘cause they’re so big and physical.”

Darian Stewart, who started at the hybrid ‘spur’ position during the regular season, will take Cook’s spot at safety. Senior Marvin Sapp, the Gamecocks’ third-leading tackler, will join linebackers Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley in the starting lineup.

“It’s really what we were doing in the spring, so we kind of had to revive that and get the guys back on target,” Johnson said. “But with bowl preparation you’ve got about 15 days, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Iowa, fourth in the Big Ten in rushing with 189 yards a game, is led by junior Shonn Greene, who won the Doak Walker Award as the country’s top tailback. Greene is the nation’s second-leading rusher with 1,729 yards.

Johnson took on the nation’s No. 1 rusher in a bowl game last year. In his final game at Mississippi State, Johnson devised a scheme for the Liberty Bowl that held Central Florida’s Kevin Smith 70 yards below his season average.

Johnson said the Gamecocks’ new scheme is similar to what he used in the 10-3 win against Central Florida.

Stock rising

The Gamecocks’ acclimation process. For the second straight day, temperatures reached 70-plus degrees for USC’s mid-morning practice. The Outback Bowl will kick off at 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla., where the average high in January is 70 degrees.

Stock falling

Depth in the secondary. Besides the loss of Cook, the Gamecocks are without one of their top backups at safety as Akeem Auguste remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

“We wish he would get healthy,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “But he just has not recovered from the hamstring pull that happened late in the season.”

Injury report

Defensive tackle Marque Hall, who has had fluid drained from his surgically repaired knee several times, has missed the past two days of practice. Hall should be available in short-yardage situations as he was during the season.


“This gives us a chance to get back to basics and get off blocks and tackle because that’s what this game is. Iowa – there isn’t anything fancy about what they do. Except they come off the ball and they hit you in the mouth and hand it to a guy who can run the ball,” – safeties coach Ron Cooper on the 4-3 scheme.

Extra points

Johnson, who has expressed interest in the head coaching vacancy at Army, said he has had no formal contact with officials at West Point. … Several younger players who were injured during the year, including defensive lineman Melvin Ingram (foot) and quarterback Aramis Hillary (knee), have gone home but will join the team in Tampa.

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