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Notebook: Special teams' sore spot returns

Stephen Garcia and teammates celebrate his second-quarter rushing touchdown against Florida Atlantic.
Stephen Garcia and teammates celebrate his second-quarter rushing touchdown against Florida Atlantic.

South Carolina made a number of changes to its beleaguered kickoff team Saturday, but the results were mostly the same.

A week after getting shredded by Georgia, the Gamecocks used seven defensive starters at various times on their coverage team in a 38-16 win against Florida Atlantic, including captains Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews, starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Akeem Auguste and free safety Chris Culliver.

The Owls started their first two drives inside their 20-yard line before Tavious Polo broke loose for a 38-yard return on FAU's third return, when Matthews and Norwood were on the bench.

After a couple of short kicks by Adam Yates, special teams coordinator Shane Beamer replaced him with place-kicker Spencer Lanning, whose third-quarter kick landed at the Owls' 10 and was returned 29 yards by Avionne Rolle.

"Kickoff coverage is our sore spot right now. Our kicker's not real good and our coverage is horrible," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "It seems like they all like to run together outside. You can see it. I can see it. Everybody in the ballpark can see it."

Georgia needed two quarters to set a school single-game return record against the Gamecocks, highlighted by a 100-yard runback and a pair of 48-yarders. FAU finished with 182 yards on seven returns.

"I hope Florida Atlantic didn't set a record," Spurrier said.

Equipment malfunction. After All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood sat most of the second half with a bruised shoulder, Ellis Johnson blamed the team's shoulder pads on a spate of shoulder injuries.

Johnson, assistant head coach for defense, said as many as eight players have sustained injuries to the front of their shoulders. Johnson said the pads leave that area exposed.

"It's something we talked about it in a staff meeting about three weeks ago. But once the problem disappears, everybody forgets about it, I guess," Johnson said. "You're going to get injuries regardless. But this particular injury has happened specifically."

Norwood tied Andrew Provence's career school sacks record (26) with a third-quarter takedown of Rusty Smith, causing him to fumble. Johnson said Norwood could have stayed in the game, but he wanted to save him for Thursday's game against Mississippi.

Shouldering the load. Tailback Kenny Miles was off to a great start before bruising his right shoulder in the first quarter. Miles had five carries for 56 yards - all one on drive - but did not return after getting injured.

"It was definitely upsetting," Miles said. "I didn't want that to happen. But all you can do is move on to the next game."

Miles said his injury occurred when he fell on the football and was unrelated to Johnson's pad concerns.

Whitlock sits. Sophomore cornerback C.C. Whitlock served his one-game suspension against the Owls. The Gamecocks will get two other suspended players back for Thursday's game against Mississippi - starting defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye and reserve offensive lineman Kyle Nunn, who were suspended three games for violating athletic department policy.

Extra points. Culliver passed Robert Brooks as USC's all-time leader in kickoff returns with 78. He needs 68 kickoff return yards to eclipse Dick Harris' record. ... Reid McCollum came in with 11 seconds remaining, completing his first career pass on a swing route to Eric Baker on the final play. ... Linebacker Tony Straughter and spur Antonio Allen each made his first career start. ... One of the loudest ovations came in the fourth quarter when Scott Spurrier pulled down his first career reception. ... Strong safety Darian Stewart, who was a game-time decision, started and shared reps with freshman DeVonte Holloman.

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