South Carolina’s defensive line has taken it on the chin this season.
The top three edge players, Bryson Allen-Williams, D.J. Wonnum, Aaron Sterling, are all done for the year. Against Clemson, tackle Keir Thomas was knocked out, Javon Kinlaw was hurt but later returned and freshman Kingsley Enagbare was out with an undisclosed injury.
So the next group had to step in. The outcome wasn’t great against a Tigers front heavy on All-ACC talent, but Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp saw a few bright spots.
“I thought Ricky (Sandidge) did a nice job,” Muschamp said. “I though Ricky showed up, flashed, made some plays. Got to continue to work on pad level, that’s something that has to continue to come. Brad Johnson ended up playing right at 90 snaps in the game, logged his most playing time, did some nice things.
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“Josh Belk, again pad level, we’ve got to continue to improve on.”
Sandidge, a four-star freshman who officially picked the Gamecocks on signing day, made seven tackles, including USC’s only one for loss. He was not an early enrollee, but has been at the back end of the rotation all year.
Sandidge had to step into the breach as his spot was primarily held by Wonnum and Allen-Williams. He managed four tackles in the pass-rushing role, playing only a few miles away from his home town of Pendleton.
As the Gamecocks turn toward facing Akron to close out the regular season, Muschamp promised to try out one new name, as USC goes even deeper into that rotation.
“We’ll try and get Jabari Ellis up this week,” Muschamp said. “Try to get him running a little bit, and then we’ll get JJ back this week, which will be good. Kobe Smith continues to have a steady year. MJ (Webb) got some snaps, Javion Duncan, who is a walk-on, got some snaps.”
Ellis is a junior college transfer who projected to help shore up the middle. The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder never really got up to speed after enrolling for the summer and has only played in USC’s first two games this season.
USC was replacing a few key players up front coming off last season and between injuries and other factors, hasn’t been that effective this season. Opponents have run the ball efficiently, and there hasn’t been much disruption.
Outside Allen-Williams and maybe Kinlaw, USC should return most of the group for next year. But that won’t help this week, as the staff will go even deeper into the group looking for more from the younger players.
“It’s a good thing we do have some depth at the position,” Muschamp siad. “Obviously hurting with some of the guys that are injured, especially on the edge.”