USC Gamecocks Football

Gamecocks getting defensive starter back, secondary still big issue

D.J. Wonnum on his battles with younger brother in practice for USC

South Carolina football defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum talks about what it has been like to face off against his younger brother, Dylan Wonnum, who plays on the offensive line for the Gamecocks, in practice.
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South Carolina football defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum talks about what it has been like to face off against his younger brother, Dylan Wonnum, who plays on the offensive line for the Gamecocks, in practice.

D.J. Wonnum returned to the practice field for South Carolina on Sunday night and is expected to take the field for the Gamecocks on Saturday when they take on Tennessee.

“This guy is an edge setter,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s got a presence on our defense. He’s got leadership ability. He’s got pass rush ability. He brings an awful lot.”

Wonnum has missed the past five games after suffering ligament damage in his ankle in a season-opening win over Coastal Carolina. The Gamecocks (3-3 overall, 2-3 SEC) take on Tennessee (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Volunteers are coming off a 58-21 loss to No. 1 Alabama.

Wonnum led South Carolina in sacks last year with six. The Gamecocks are 12th in the SEC in sacks this year with 10.

While his return will boost the offensive line, the secondary remains hampered by injuries. Starter J.T. Ibe (knee) and reserve Nick Harvey (concussion) will miss the Tennessee game. Backup running back A.J. Turner (concussion) is questionable.

Quarterback question. Junior quarterback Jake Bentley will start for South Carolina against Tennessee, but senior backup Michael Scarnecchia will be ready if needed, Muschamp said.

“It’s no different than any other position. You have to play well, have to take care of the football,” Muschamp said. “Mike’s a guy we’ve got a lot of confidence in. It’s no different from any position on our team. You have to go play well, and if we feel like we can make a change in positive direction, we will.”

Bentley is sixth in the SEC in passing with 230.2 yards per game, but his seven interceptions are the most by a conference quarterback.

Bye week message. The Gamecocks are coming off an open week in which their head coach told them to get away from football and “decompress.”

“I told the team this is not where we wanted to be, but this is where we are and these are things we need to do to improve,” Muschamp said. “It starts with turnover margin. We’re minus-six in turnovers in SEC games. You can’t win when you’re minus-six. It’s very difficult to overcome that.”

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