South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward bumped into Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, his former Alabama teammate, at a Shrine Bowl function Friday.
Swinney wanted to know how Ward felt about coaching in the Papajohns.com Bowl at Legion Field, where the Crimson Tide played half their home games when the two were in school.
"I said I never would have thought I'd get to go back to Tuscaloosa at Bryant-Denny (Stadium) my first year at South Carolina. Now I'm going to Birmingham where we played," Ward said Saturday. "They both were home fields for us, other than the Auburn game. ... It'll be like going back home again."
Ward, who grew up 90 miles southwest of Birmingham in Greensboro, Ala., already has his bowl week itinerary, which includes stops at the Civil Rights Museum, the Vulcan (the world's largest cast iron statue) and Dreamland barbecue.
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"Birmingham will be a great trip. There's a lot of history there. Guys just don't realize it," Ward said. "Even from seeing the church that was bombed during the '60s. There's a lot of history there that people can learn from if they're just willing to take a look at it."
Kick it here
USC special teams coordinator Shane Beamer said the Gamecocks face another dangerous return team in UConn.
The Huskies have three kickoff returns for touchdowns this season - each by a different player. UConn, which ranks second in the Big East with a 26-yard return average, has returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown in four of their past five games.
Meanwhile, USC has allowed three kick returns for scores and is last in the SEC in kick coverage. In their final two regular-season games, the Gamecocks faced Florida's Brandon James, the SEC's career leader for return yards, and Clemson's C.J. Spiller, a unanimous first-team all-purpose back on The Associated Press' All-America team.
"We've certainly been through the fire this year," Beamer said. "We'll try to have a go at it one more time."
After Spiller returned Adam Yates' opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown last month, place-kicker/punter Spencer Lanning kicked off the rest of the game.
Beamer said he was uncertain who would kick off in the bowl game.
"The biggest thing there is just getting the ball where it's supposed to be consistently every time. We'll sacrifice distance for location," Beamer said. "Whoever can put that ball where it needs to be will be out there."
USC coach Steve Spurrier said the Gamecocks have installed about 80 percent of their game plan for UConn but will save a remaining portion for the practices in Birmingham.
"I think you can get ready too early. I've heard some teams play in the bowl game say that we were ready to play five days before the game got there. They're flying around, hitting each other and going crazy in practice," Spurrier said. "So we try to build it as we get up to the game, just like we did the two weeks before the Clemson game."
As expected, an MRI exam on reserve tailback Eric Baker's left knee revealed torn cartilage. The sophomore, who was injured Thursday, will undergo surgery and miss five to six months, Spurrier said. ... Backup quarterback Reid McCollum missed practice Saturday to attend his brother's college graduation. Spurrier said Zac Brindise had a good day working behind starter Stephen Garcia. ... USC is off today but will resume practicing Monday before breaking Wednesday for the holidays. The Gamecocks are scheduled to leave for Birmingham on Dec. 29.