USC Gamecocks Football

It only fit South Carolina’s injury-riddled season that bowl claimed a few more

It only made sense South Carolina’s hellacious year of injuries would be capped by something bordering on absurd.

Most everything one could think of on the body had been damaged on some Gamecocks defender, so why not a tooth?

“Steven Montac had an infected tooth that we tried to numb before the game,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said after his team’s 28-0 Belk Bowl loss to Virginia. “It’s just been an issue for him.”

That’s along with top running back Rico Dowdle, who missed time earlier in the season, hurting his groin.

That’s along with freshman defensive back Jaycee Horn, who missed time with an ankle, hurting his shoulder.

That’s along with top corner Rashad Fenton possibly injuring his groin, and USC was in a tight spot as its other corner, Keisean Nixon, was done for the season with a fractured neck.

That’s along with linebacker Rosendo Louis, who Muschamp said could play, not being able to go, and defensive lineman Keir Thomas playing early and then being out of pads in the second half.

In short, it only fit the cavalcade on injuries wouldn’t end just because the team got some time off.

Looking over the season-opening depth chart, 12 members of the defensive two-deep and another four on offense were lost by the end of the bowl game. There were at least 15 season-ending injuries.

“It creates some issues,” Muschamp said. “There’s some things that you go through some of the growing pains that we’ve had to go through the latter part of the season. It is extremely frustrating.

“We’ve recruited the right guys, and they’re going to fight.”

By the game’s end, the defense was stretched to its limit. In passing situations, A.J. Turner, a career running back, was out at cornerback, trying to slow a Cavs offense with some talented pieces. In non-passing spots, Turner was replaced by Spencer Eason-Riddle, a walk-on linebacker from North Carolina whose biggest contribution beyond special teams was playing fullback part-time.

And that’s to say nothing of the legion of freshmen and true sophomores who often made up more than half the players on the field in South Carolina’s bowl.

“Those guys came in and did what the coaches asked them to do for the most part,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “They just need to continue to understand the job and the things that go into the job.

“I’m sure they spilled their guts, but got to keep pushing.”

Perhaps the payoff will come down the road, with young players shoved into bigger roles. But for now, the season where injuries hit at almost an absurd level finally came to an end.