USC Gamecocks Football

Notebook: Secondary faces toughest test

Tyler Wilson
Tyler Wilson

South Carolina’s secondary has clearly made strides from a year ago, but that won’t be enough to stop Arkansas passing game, Todd Blackledge said Wednesday.

“If they aren’t able to affect the quarterback and get pressure, I don’t care what any of the statistics say, they’ll get torched on Saturday,” said Blackledge, who will provide color commentary for Saturday night’s ESPN broadcast. “As far as what they have to do defensively, they have to affect Tyler Wilson. They can’t let him get comfortable, and they can’t let the passing game have a lot of timing. You have to make him uncomfortable.”

Plenty of teams have done that recently. The Razorbacks are eighth in the SEC in sacks allowed with 17 and Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior, has taken several bone-rattling hits this season.

“Watching him against Vanderbilt, he stays in there and makes the throws,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “He got hit a bunch of times, a bunch of times so he’s a tough kid. He plays with courage back there. He’ll stay in the pocket and make the throws. I admire the way he plays.”

Blackledge believes Wilson is the best quarterback in the SEC and part of the reason is his toughness, he said. Wilson leads the conference with 291 passing yards per game, but he’s been the brunt of so many vicious hits that he joked about his health with reporters in Arkansas this week.

“Hopefully, you know, God is looking out for me,” Wilson said. “I’m just going to keep throwing it, and hopefully I’ll keep getting up.”

The Gamecocks seventh in the SEC in sacks with two per game. They have three combined in the last three games and 11 of their 16 on the season came against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

“We need to get some sacks and consistent pressure on the quarterback,” Spurrier said. “That’s how you stop a good passing team, as we all know. So we’ve got to get our rushing shoes ready to go out there Saturday night.”

Defensive line coach Brad Lawing was happy with the way his team disrupted Tennessee’s quarterbacks last week despite only recording one sack.

“If you get sacks, that’s great, but the whole thing is affecting the quarterback,” Lawing said. “You want sacks but anytime you make the quarterback move in the pocket, and he starts throwing the ball high and throwing the ball wide, you are affecting him.”

ALLEN NOT PRACTICING

Senior spur Antonio Allen, the team’s leading tackler, did not practice Wednesday due to a neck sprain suffered in Tuesday’s practice. Allen attended part of Wednesday’s practice. His status for Saturday’s game is unclear.

Losing Allen would be a huge blow against Arkansas, which has the SEC’s No. 1 passing offense. Allen is tied for the team lead in interceptions with three. He also has three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

ELLINGTON’S WHEELS

Wide receiver Bruce Ellington estimated he was 85 percent last week against Tennessee due to a hamstring injury. Ellington played against the Volunteers but did not have a carry or a catch.

He is 100 percent this week, he said after Wednesday’s practice. Ellington will attend Thursday’s basketball exhibition game and sit on the bench with his teammates, he said. He will not participate. Ellington was the Gamecocks’ starting point guard last year and will rejoin the team when football season is complete.

OFF THE PACE

Junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is 19 catches behind the record pace he set last year. Jeffery has 33 catches for 468 yards this season. Through eight games last year, he had 52 catches for 935 yards.

“He’s not down about it. He’s not pouting,” quarterback Connor Shaw said. “He knows about the defense. He’s not too frustrated.”

In the last two games, Jeffery has averaged 5 yards per catch on eight catches.

“We have a lot of (passes) assigned towards him,” Spurrier said. “But everybody’s frustrated. The receivers catch balls all week; they want to catch them in the game.”

Jeffery was not cleared to speak to the media following Wednesday’s practice.

“The object is not to see how many passing yards you can get, the object is to try and win the game, and that’s what we’re going to try to do,” Spurrier said. “And Alshon knows that. The other guys, they like to get passes, too. We’re not just out here to throw it to Alshon.”

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