Linebacker Shaq Wilson made some key plays in his season debut Saturday but has plenty of room for improvement, Ellis Johnson says.
Wilson, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., had seven tackles and recovered two fumbles in his first action of the season in the loss to Auburn.
Only Stephon Gilmore and Josh Dickerson had more total tackles in the game (nine each).
Johnson, South Carolina's assistant head coach and Wilson's position coach, saw the good and the not-so-good of the linebacker's return.
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"He is not in football condition," Johnson said. "I think he played very average. I'll have to look at the film and see. When he got there, I know he made some good plays. There are a couple of times I saw him where he really couldn't close and make a play."
It wasn't until last week that Wilson practiced fully after missing the first three games and more than a month of workouts because of a bad hamstring injury.
Before then, coaches were considering whether a medical redshirt could be a possibility for last year's leading tackler. By late last week coaches said Wilson would definitely play against Auburn.
He wound up starting the game.
“It felt great,” Wilson said of returning to the field. “It was fun to be out there making plays and having fun with my friends, but it’s a sour feeling when you lose. It's bittersweet”
Johnson said Wilson needs to improve his conditioning, something the bye week can only help with.
"Obviously, with the inactivity that he's had, he's not in top shape," Johnson said. "He needs to drop a few pounds, get into his top condition."
Wilson was pleased with his two fumble recoveries, both of which led to USC touchdowns.
"It was just being around the ball, hustling, going full speed like Coach Johnson tell us to do," he said.
His return was spoiled by the 35-27 loss and the defense's surrendering of almost 500 yards of Auburn offense.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton totaled five touchdowns and 334 yards of offense, 176 and three touchdowns on the ground and 158 and two touchdowns in the air.
Despite those numbers, Wilson insisted Newton wasn't hard to tackle.
"It's not hard at all," Wilson said. "He's a good athlete and all and he deserves what he gets, but it's not hard at all."
Wilson said the Tigers' execution was the difference in the game.
"They out-executed us. They made plays in big-time situations," he said. "You can't take anything away from Auburn. They made plays when they had to. We just didn't come up with big plays."
Wilson played in all 13 games last season and started 11 of them. He totaled 85 tackles and an interception.
"I know he's going to probably look at the film like all the rest of us and see a lot of things we've got to improve on," Johnson said.