Will Muschamp appreciates the 20 Gamecocks seniors set to walk Saturday
At the start of this football season, the duo didn’t even get a full game together before Wonnum hurt his foot. He returned for the Tennessee game, and Allen-Williams made it nearly two full games before an ankle injury against Ole Miss prompted surgery before the Florida game that will keep him out until the bowl.
Thus, what had the potential to be a fearsome pass rush and edge-setting duo will end the season having hardly played with one another.
“We talked about it a while ago,” Wonnum said. “We never get to be on the field at the same time.
“Things happen for a reason.”
In the preseason, they looked like two anchors for a defense that had to reload at some spots. Wonnum was coming off a breakout season in his first year as a starter. Allen-Williams was starting his second senior year, as a shoulder injury in USC’s third 2017 game ended his season early.
There was talk of two veteran edge guys each providing a steady presence. The pair even worked off each other, with each able to play two positions, so Allen Williams could slide from linebacker to Buck pass rusher against spread teams and Wonnum could go from Buck to end.
“That’s disappointing,” middle linebacker T.J. Brunson said about how things played out. “Especially having two guys like that that can get to the quarterback, it’s definitely not ideal to not have those guys at the same time.”
When Wonnum was out, Allen-Williams stepped into his role. At 230 pounds, he did his best at the Buck defensive end position. It capped a winding journey for the Georgia product.
He came to USC as a four-star prospect, but couldn’t find a role in his first two seasons, bouncing between defensive line and linebacker. As a junior, he was forced to play inside linebacker because of injury, but the past two years found his ideal home in the hybrid ‘backer/end role.
Allen-Williams has 36 tackles, 10 for loss, a pair of sacks and five QB hurries.
“Just thinking in terms of last night, kind of our seniors, Bryson is guy who is really special to me,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “A guy I’ve known for a long time, (from) Cedar Grove High School. Had a very difficult junior season, was supposed to be his senior season last year with the labrum and having the surgery.
“To have the ankle injury, and hopefully we will get him back for the bowl game. We appreciate everything he has done for us, but he and D.J. are both guys who in training camp looked really good on the edges.”
This season, the Gamecocks pass rush hasn’t been as bad as in past years, but still not near the average nationally. But the defense as a whole has taken its share of injuries.
Without Allen-Williams, the likes of Shameik Blackshear, Brad Johnson, Daniel Fennell and others will have to step up. Keir Thomas can also help at the bigger end spot, but USC is looking thinner on the outside with Aaron Sterling also hurt.
Teammates said despite Allen-Williams’ second setback in as many seasons, if he’s down about it, he’s not showing it. They described him as someone who always had an upbeat outlook, even in the face of setback.
Wonnum said when he was hurt, he turned to Allen-Williams to help him keep his mind right and keep focused.
“I’m definitely sure he’s down,” Brunson said. “But he’s in a chipper mood a lot of the time. He’s one of those guys who is always looking forward to whatever is coming back.”