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USC coaches and players celebrate the fumble recovery after the kickoff in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against the Bulldogs in Athens, GA, Saturday, September 12, 2009.
USC coaches and players celebrate the fumble recovery after the kickoff in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against the Bulldogs in Athens, GA, Saturday, September 12, 2009. The State Media Company

After South Carolina watched the video of the Georgia game - a DVD that could have doubled as a highlight reel of the Bulldogs' kickoff returners - Gamecocks defensive end Cliff Matthews approached special teams coach Shane Beamer outside the team meeting room.

"Put me on kickoff," Matthews told Beamer.

Done.

"That's the attitude you need," Beamer said Wednesday. "I wish we had more guys lining up to get on that team, and we do. I wish we had more offensive and defensive starters that had that attitude."

Two games into his second stint running the Gamecocks' special teams, the man whose father (Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer) has become synonymous with strong special teams has taken a straightforward approach to fixing USC's kickoff coverage:

BeamerBall will now include more of the Gamecocks' best players.

Besides Matthews, starting free safety Chris Culliver said he will cover kicks against Florida Atlantic, in addition to returning them. Starting linebackers Shaq Wilson and Eric Norwood are backups on the kickoff team

It is not a novel strategy. Georgia starting tailback Richard Samuel was on the Bulldogs' kickoff team last weekend.

But there are potential drawbacks. Some coaches avoid using starters on special teams to avoid injuries and keep them from wearing down.

"You've got to put your best players in there or you're going to get your butt worn out by other teams because they're putting they're best players in there - and that's offense and defense," Beamer said. "You can get hurt playing defense. You can hurt playing offense. I don't worry so much about injuries. I will try to rest a guy if he's on a lot of different special teams."

Wilson started on three special teams plays at N.C. State, but Beamer pulled him off the kickoff team for the Georgia game after Wilson replaced the injured Rodney Paulk in the starting lineup. Beamer lost another member of the kickoff team last week when backup linebacker Reggie Bowens went down with a knee injury.

By the end of the first half, Georgia had broken a school record for kickoff returns, highlighted by Brandon Boykin's 100-yard touchdown and a pair of 48-yard runbacks.

"Obviously, we didn't have all of our best (players) out there covering kickoffs the other night," USC coach Steve Spurrier said.

They also didn't have Ryan Succop kicking off.

Succop, the Kansas City Chiefs' starting kicker this year, sent 41 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks last season, eliminating the possibility of a long return nearly half the time.

Adam Yates has not had a touchback in his first 11 kicks, although Beamer said the walk-on from Maryland has improved. Yates was most comfortable kicking down the middle in the first half at Georgia, but his directional kicks after halftime stopped the bleeding.

"There was a difference," Beamer said. "We were covering half the field."

USC is next-to-last in the SEC in kickoff coverage - ahead of only Alabama, which has allowed a touchdown return in each of its two games.

Beamer said he feels "pretty good" about the rest of the Gamecocks' special teams, which rank in the middle of the SEC standings.

The 32-year-old Beamer was a long snapper for his father at Virginia Tech. While Beamer appreciates the Hokies' special teams tradition, he wants USC to build its own.

"I'm an assistant coach coaching special teams. Frank Beamer's the head coach at Virginia Tech coaching the special teams," he said. "And he's developed that reputation over a lot of years. It's a reputation that excites me. But I'm also Shane Beamer. He didn't give me Virginia Tech's playbook and then I just copy it and try to do what they do. We do what we do."

That means throwing USC's best players into the fray.

"You know the starters are going to go hard and the starters know a little bit more," Culliver said. "So he's going to get a lot of starters on there, and we'll see how they do."

Culliver, a junior closing in on USC's career return records, is looking forward to being on the other end of kickoff collisions.

"I love that, lighting everybody up," said Culliver, who was on the coverage team parts of the past two seasons. "You can't hold back. You can't be not wanting to play this, talking about getting hurt. It's football. You're going to get hurt, or injuries, or banged up a little bit."

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