South Carolina’s defense on what the return of D.J. Wonnum means for the Gamecocks
D.J. Wonnum says it might take him a full game back before he’s in top form. Bryson Allen-Williams thinks he looks just fine right now.
“He looks great. I promise you,” said Allen-Williams, South Carolina’s senior Buck end. “He looks so good. I can’t wait to see him.”
Allen-Williams and Wonnum were supposed to give the Gamecocks two legitimate pass rushing threats on the field together for the first time under head coach Will Muschamp. Instead, Wonnum has missed the last five games due to an ankle injury suffered in the season-opener against Coastal Carolina.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Wonnum returns Saturday when South Carolina (3-3 overall, 2-3 SEC) takes on Tennessee (3-4, 1-3) in Williams-Brice Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
“I can’t wait,” Wonnum said. “I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to play. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Wonnum started all 13 games last year and was the team’s leading returning sacker with six a year ago. In his first two seasons, he had 89 tackles, including 16.5 for-loss.
“He adds another dimension to us as far as pass rush is concerned, but probably the thing I would say more than anything from a leadership standpoint and a presence standpoint, a guy who has a lot of respect in the locker room,” Muschamp said. “When he is on the practice field the way he practices, the way he goes about his business, he helps our football team improve and get better.”
Wonnum’s bulk also should help South Carolina’s run defense. In his absence, the Gamecocks have started the 230-pound Allen-Williams and 245-pound Aaron Sterling on the ends of their defensive line. South Carolina is 12th in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 179.2 yards per game on the ground.
“It’s like a breath of relief having a guy like D.J. back on the field,” junior middle linebacker T.J. Brunson said.
The Gamecocks are 13th in the SEC and 113th in nation this season in sacks with 1.67 per game. Javon Kinlaw leads the team with 2.5 through the first six games.
“Having him on the other end of me helps me out and helps the team out,” Allen-Williams aid. “They have to double team him, and I can’t wait to see him back out there. That’s two guys you’ve got on the edge that have played a lot of football here. We are going to be excited to go out and help this team win.”
Wonnum, who had two sacks last year against the Volunteers, is just excited to get back on the field. He had played in all 26 games of his collegiate career before this injury.
“It was very hard, but I got through it,” he said. “Stayed positive, did my treatment, kept working on my craft. Negativity leads to worse things so I tried to stay positive. I knew I would be back eventually.”