The South Carolina football team’s pass defense struggled in a big way against Texas A&M. Coach Will Muschamp said if players don’t do what’s needed, they stand a chance of being benched.
True freshman R.J. Roderick could benefit from that change, the result of coming on at practice in recent weeks.
Roderick, who wasn’t an option outside garbage times before this week, went in as a sixth defensive back early against the Aggies. Later, he was stepping in at safety in big spots, taking some lumps but also making a play here and there.
The Gamecocks need more answers at the spot, and Muschamp thinks Roderick could be the guy.
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“R.J. is a really talented guy, and he continues to get better,” Muschamp said. “He practices the right way. He’s really performed much better in practice the past couple weeks, so he’s earned the opportunity to play. We need to get more production. We need to get bigger at the position.”
That came with a promise the freshman from Cane Bay High School will continue to play a lot more.
Roderick came to the Gamecocks with hardly any experience at defensive back, or on defense at all. In high school, he was a prolific option quarterback, but the staff saw the now-6-foot-1, 207-pound player and projected a safety who could move and hit.
He ran for 1,778 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, and then missed six games as a senior with a back injury. When he returned, he was more focused on playing defense and running back.
After enrolling early, the staff spoke highly of him in spring, saying he’d contribute in some way his first season. That started on special teams, and appears set to expand to defense.
In the A&M game, Muschamp praised the way he covered a corner route against the Aggies’ big tight end Jace Sternberger, helping force an incompletion and a field goal. He did a good job tracking quarterback Kellen Mond on a bootleg play.
South Carolina is looking for more from a safety spot that’s been depleted by injuries and has been ineffective through the year. The group has included former Texas A&M corner Nick Harvey, Rice grad transfer J.T. Ibe, former top recruit Jamyest Williams and veteran Steven Montac.
Ibe missed the past two games with a knee injury, and Harvey missed the A&M game with a concussion. That left Montac and Williams, neither of whom stand taller than 5-foot-10 or weigh more than 186 pounds and both of whom got dinged up by game’s end.
So with an extra week for the staff to plan and assess, Roderick might just find his way into a more prominent role.
“Just needs to get more and more snaps,” Muschamp said. “The game will continue to slow down for him. He works at it. He’s practicing the right way.
“He’ll continue to get more snaps.”