South Carolina is going to be auditioning a lot of players for its punt return job this week.
The Gamecocks have fumbled three punts, losing two of them, this season. On Saturday, cornerback Jamarcus King fumbled a punt with fewer than four minutes left in a 24-13 loss to Texas A&M, costing the Gamecocks their final chance to come from behind against the Aggies.
King was in his first game as the team’s punt returner after replacing Rashad Fenton, who had fumbled earlier in the Texas A&M game.
“Ball possession is my No. 1 thing right now,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We need to have possession of the ball, so we are going to send somebody back there so that the first thing we are going to be able to do is to catch it.”
Tight ends Hayden Hurt and Kiel Pollard, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards and cornerbacks Fenton and Chris Lammons all will get a chance during practice this week, Muschamp said. The coach spoke particularly highly of Hurst’s ability to field the ball.
Wide receivers Samuel and Edwards both practiced Sunday night and are expected to play against Georgia on Saturday. Both players missed the Texas A&M game with hamstring injuries, and Samuel has missed the past three games.
Edwards has 17 catches for 223 yards this season. Samuel, the team’s leading returning wide receiver, has four catches for 66 yards.
Linebacker Larenz Bryant (hamstring) and offensive lineman Blake Camper (ankle) also will be available, Muschamp said. Wide receiver Randrecous Davis (hamstring) and offensive lineman Donnell Stanley (ankle) will continue to be out.
South Carolina’s nine missed tackles (as calculated by the coaching staff) was the team’s fewest this season.
“That’s a huge improvement from where we were Week 1, Week 2,” Muschmap said. “We have continued to get better each week. We have a different challenge in front of us this week. We need to continue to improve against the two-back running game.”
The Gamecocks are sixth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 18.6 points per game.
“We have really improved playing blocks up front,” Muschamp said. “Our guys played hard. For the most part, assignment-wise we played well. Our guys have improved. They have continued to buy in.”