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Injuries come at bad time for defense

USC defensive end Cliff Matthews
USC defensive end Cliff Matthews

Coaches will tell you there is no good time for an injury.

But getting hit by the injury bug while preparing for two games in a six-day stretch qualifies as particularly poor timing. But that is the case with South Carolina’s defense, which has two starters out and a couple others who are questionable heading into the home opener against Florida Atlantic and next Thursday’s game against No. 5 Mississippi.

“(Mississippi is) a possible, top-10 team in the nation, certainly a good top-20 team – it’s not a good time at all,” USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said Thursday. “We’ll get some of them back.”

But when?

Middle linebacker Rodney Paulk went down with a season-ending knee injury at N.C. State. Defensive tackle Nathan Pepper is out for the FAU game and is “very doubtful” for Mississippi after spraining his right ankle at Georgia, Johnson said.

Three other starters also are banged-up: Defensive end Cliff Matthews and strong safety Darian Stewart have neck stingers, while defensive tackle Melvin Ingram missed three days with an ankle injury.

Matthews and Ingram are expected to play against the Owls. Johnson said Stewart would be a game-time decision. If Stewart cannot play, freshman DeVonte Holloman would make his first career start.

“If we don’t have Stewart, it starts the domino effect (in USC’s) base and dime (defenses),” Johnson said. “It’s going to present a lot of problems to us because of the level of experience those other kids have coming in behind him.”

Scouting the Owls. FAU will be missing one of its best players after receiver Cortez Gent was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. Gent, the Owls’ leading receiver the past two years, caught five passes for 58 yards in the Owls’ only game – a 49-3 loss to Nebraska.

Johnson said USC must pressure FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, a four-year starter who has thrown for more than 8,000 yards.

“He’ll be the best quarterback on the field,” Johnson said. “He’s the oldest quarterback. He’s the most experienced. And he’ll be the best quarterback on the field if we don’t do something about it defensively.”

Extra points. Freshman receiver Alshon Jeffery missed Thursday’s practice with an illness, although USC coach Steve Spurrier said it was not flu-related.

… Spur Alonzo Winfield was excused from practice due to a death in the family.

… Spencer Lanning, who tied a school record with five field goals at Georgia, was named one of three kicking stars of the week by the sponsors of the Groza Award, which goes to the nation’s top placekicker.

… Johnson said he would like to preserve the redshirt for freshman Aldrick Fordham, whom Johnson called undersized but one of the team’s most natural defensive linemen.

He said it. “If some of our guys aren’t really ready to play, they’re going to get clobbered. We’ve tried to warn ‘em all we can ‘cause Florida Atlantic’s coming in here to play. And they’d love to come beat an SEC team,” – Spurrier.

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