South Carolina has three experienced safeties available heading into Saturday’s game against Florida. Cornerback Rashad Fenton is ready to move over from cornerback if the Gamecocks need a fourth against the Gators, and head coach Will Muschamp will be taking applications the rest of the week for the fifth spot.
“Everybody has to be ready to play every position,” senior safety Steven Montac said.
South Carolina (5-3 overall, 4-3 SEC) will face No. 19 Florida (6-3, 4-3) at noon Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., and it will be doing it with a secondary that has been battered by injuries. Jamyest Williams (shoulder) and Javon Charleston (foot) have both been lost for the season. J.T. Ibe (knee) and Nick Harvey (concussion) have each missed at least the last three games and won’t play against the Gators.
That leaves Montac, true freshman R.J. Roderick and redshirt freshman Jaylin Dickerson, who has five tackles this season, as the only available and experienced safeties. This might not be a terrible week to be short in the secondary, though, considering Florida is 11th in the SEC in passing offense and 10th in the conference in passing attempts.
“None of us can get hurt,” Dickerson said. “If we’ve got small boo-boos or little injuries, we’ve got to stick it out, be tough.”
True freshman Jonathan Gipson and senior walk-on Jason Senn had a more visible role at the position during Tuesday’s practice, Dickerson said. Head coach Will Muschamp even suggested wide receiver Shi Smith could be used as an emergency cornerback to free up another cornerback to move to safety.
Smith “was a really good defensive back at Union (High School),” Muschamp said. “He’s got good cover skills, good ball skills, ball judgment down the field. He’s tough, he can tackle. So we just met with him to mentally prepare him. If we get into a jam, we need to communicate with him on the things he needs to do.”
Third-string quarterback Dakereon Joyner will not be asked to fill in at safety, Muschamp said.
“We’re committed to him at quarterback,” Muschamp said.
That may be the only option that is off the table, though.
“I am ready to play,” Fenton said. “Whatever I have to do to help the team I am going to do.”
The development of true freshman cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu gives the Gamecocks the ability to move Fenton if needed.
“I have a lot of confidence in our young guys,” Montac said. “I feel like we have some of the best young DBs in the nation. R.J., Jaylin Dickerson, we’ve got Jaycee Horn, we’ve got Izzy, we have some talented young guys. I feel very confident when they’re out there with me.”
Muschamp is getting more confident with his young players, which is a good thing considering he’s been forced into playing four freshmen together in the defensive backfield this year due to injuries.
“It’s good as we move forward,” Muschamp said. “It may give me a couple of gray hairs, but those guys are all extremely bright, they work really hard. The thing we’ve got to realize as we install and look at different things is we’re not asking them to do too much. We’re not asking them to think. They need to reacting on game day, playing fast.”