For now, they’re names on an injury list; next season, they’ll be reinforcements.
South Carolina’s football coaches preach constantly a mentality of “next man up.” It’s one of those things a team needs to believe to keep going after injuries, but also something that pragmatically reflects more philosophy than reality (even if a player is held to Deebo Samuel’s standard, he’s probably not Deebo Samuel).
South Carolina has lost a set of players at key spots, yet they’ve soldiered on.
“In life, every day you either make progress or excuses,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “And we don’t make excuses around here. Regardless of who or what the situation or circumstance, we’ve got to make progress.
“Our guys have bought into that mentality and understand, when your number’s called, we need your best.”
The Gamecocks’ list of players lost for now but set to return in 2018 is fairly impressive: All-star receiver/returner/offensive dynamo Deebo Samuel, starting tailback Rico Dowdle, who was never really healthy this year, key defensive cog Bryson Allen-Williams. The group is so deep that versatile tight end K.C. Crosby, last year’s No. 4 pass catcher, is way down the list.
That’s to say nothing of a pair of freshman defensive backs.
Muschamp was high on Jaylin Dickerson and promised he’d be in the safety rotation, and his absence forced Chris Lammons to move there (where he’s thrived). Corner Tavyn Jackson could be a rotation player, but instead USC has relied on a thin secondary all season.
But that speaks, to a degree, to how much South Carolina has adhered to that “next man up” approach.
“We treat everybody the same,” safety D.J. Smith said. “It don’t matter if you’re a starter or a backup. You’ve got the same standard as the starter.”
“Coach usually says once you play a full game, you’re not a freshman no more.”
You’re looking at an offense down a top receiver and runner, plus a nice secondary option. On defense, you’re talking about a group that came in with only three returning linebackers and then lost one.
Yet the Gamecocks have been solid. The defense has bent but not broken on the way to slowing down opponents. The offense has had downs, ups, downs and plenty of flashes, but it’s been enough to hold on.
The Gamecocks are 6-3, despite missing the players above, with a squad that’s two seasons removed from bottoming out at the end of the Spurrier era. They’ll have a chance at wins seven and eight against an ailing Florida team and FCS Wofford.
Muschamp’s team has held together despite all that, and next season it returns two or three key playmakers, the versatile anchor Allan-Williams provides, plus the potential of the freshman defenders. That’s something good for the program’s future, but Muschamp doesn’t have that at the top of his mind.
“Those guys are really good football players and guys that have replaced them, their experience is going to be invaluable moving forward,” Muschamp said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.”