As told by those who work in it every day, the South Carolina defensive line room features no leaderboard on the walls. A dry erase marker might be present, but it’s not used to update sack totals for Aaron Sterling, Javon Kinlaw or D.J. Wonnum.
These Gamecocks prefer not to make their season production into some kind of position competition.
“We’re really just out there playing,” Sterling said. “We’re doing what we can to make sure we’re helping our team win. I most we probably say is ... we congratulate each other.”
Appalachian State coach Eliah Drinkwitz on Monday didn’t hide the biggest challenge facing his Mountaineers (7-1) when they come to Williams Brice Stadium to take on USC (4-5) on Saturday night.
“We definitely have our hands full and have got to do a great job of handling the defensive line and controlling the line of scrimmage,” Drinkwitz said.
In a season of ups and downs, South Carolina’s defensive front has remained consistent. Scan the SEC sack leaders and you’ll find proof. Sterling is tied for first with six, Kinlaw is tied for fifth with five, Wonnum is tied for eighth with 4.5.
No other SEC team boasts as many players with at least four sacks.
“That’s a big accomplishment for us,” Kinlaw said. “I’m really proud of how everybody’s been working together. We’ve been working together and working for each other, so it’s all paid off.”
Kinlaw, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound enforcer in the middle, has seen his stock rise to the point where he seems like a lock to be taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But that joy he shows for his linemates is part of why that unit’s been so successful this season, said Will Muschamp.
“Being really unselfish and understand that, based on how we want to call a game, understand that you may not be a feature part of the game,” the South Carolina coach said Tuesday. “’But do your job and be willing to eat two blocks and you may end up being the free guy at the end of the day. And I think it’s been a very unselfish group as far as those things are concerned.
“Javon’s had to beat double teams and he’s never complained. It creates a 1 on 1 for somebody else. He understands that. Anybody that knows ball watching film understands that.
“I’ve really been pleased with how unselfish the group has been to understand those things.”
South Carolina has three players with at least 4.5 sacks for the first time since the Jadeveon Clowney-led unit in 2012. At least three games are left for the group Kinlaw calls the best d-line he’s played on.
“We’re just so locked in, so focused,” Kinlaw said. “There’s so many chances and opportunities to make so many plays out there. We got some pass rushers.”
Who: Appalachian State (7-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) at South Carolina (4-5, 3-4 SEC)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Line: USC by 5