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October 3, 2013

Rush's insider roundtable

In this special feature, Gamecock Central's football insiders answer five questions about the Gamecocks.

1. Given Connor Shaw's quick recovery and the news that he'll start against Kentucky, how would you handle the quarterback position Saturday?

JOSH LOW: If Connor Shaw is 100 percent healthy, then I think you have to start him. He is the starter and the guy that gives the team the best chance to win. I look back to last season against UAB. It didn't look like Shaw was completely healthy in that game, but he played anyway. He did bounce back the next game against Missouri and played one of his best games. If he is rushing it, then I go with Dylan Thompson and have Shaw ready on the bench. They may not need Shaw to win this game, but I do think they will need him the next three weeks on the road. The last thing that can happen is to rush him. Only Shaw knows how he really feels.

RON AIKEN: You have to start Connor Shaw if he's healthy. He's earned that right over his career, and he's played the best football of his career this season. I'd sprinkle Thompson in a couple of series, maybe one a half, but I give Connor the keys back. Now, I might put him on a budget as far as his number of carries, but I'm OK living with the way Connor Shaw plays football.

CHRIS CLARK: As long as Shaw is indeed 100 percent healthy, then I start and play him but approach the game and the situations he is put in cautiously. Shaw played hurt last season and it had an effect on both his throwing and running ability. His long-term health this season is more important than a game that USC should be able to win at home without him so if there is any doubt I would rest him as much as possible. It looks like there is confidence that he's healthy and no doubt he does not want to miss a game. Perhaps if USC gets up early the team could have the best of both worlds with a win and some extra rest.

2. What do you expect out of the backup running backs this week with Brandon Wilds out? Who do you think will get more action between Shon Carson and David Williams?

JOSH LOW: It sounds like Shon Carson will get the reps as the number two guy at running back and I agree with that decision. Carson really needs something positive to happen for him and get his confidence back. I think you come out pounding Mike Davis for the first half and look up at the scoreboard after and see where you are. The hope is you are able to play some backups in the second half. I do expect Carson to get his share of carries. My opinion on David Williams is play him Saturday if he is ready. If he is ready to play this weekend against Kentucky, then the chances of him staying at South Carolina for five years are not very good. It would be good experience for him. If he is good enough to play Saturday, then there is no reason to worry about wasting a redshirt year.

RON AIKEN: Shon Carson, we were told Wednesday night, is the No. 2 running back and will get the snaps Brandon Wilds got. The coaching staff does not want to have to use David Williams, but he is being prepared in case something happens to Wilds or Carson. No one wants to have to use Williams this season, including Williams, but no one thought Brandon Wilds would be carrying the ball two years ago when he started out as the fifth-string running back, either.

CHRIS CLARK: It likely means we will continue seeing a lot of Mike Davis, but I would also expect to see Carson get more opportunities than he has so far this season. USC has primarily used a two-back rotation between Davis and Wilds so Carson has been limited. With Carson being elevated to the second back, it is possible the staff will try to keep Williams' redshirt intact if possible especially if the other two remain healthy and are playing well. Williams has received practice reps to get him ready, but I could see it going either way with him playing or not playing on Saturday. The bottom line is that I still expect to see more of Carson at least heading into the game.

3. Do you think there should be any changes to the starting lineup in the back seven on defense? Are there any players that you think should see more playing time?

JOSH LOW: I think some of the play in the back seven warrants change, but the starters are the starters for a reason. I believe Larenz Bryant may be the answer at Spur in the future but listening to the interviews this week, it sounds like he isn't ready yet. I still would like to see his reps go up at Spur and also see Jordan Diggs more. I think T.J. Holloman has earned more playing time, possibly even a start. It also sounds like Skai Moore will get more action at Will linebacker this week. The safeties need to play smarter. Brison Williams is an experienced player and needs to be more consistent. The rotation of T.J. Gurley and Kadetrix Marcus at the other safety position probably needs to stay the same.

RON AIKEN: I do. I'm not pleased with the linebacking play in terms of consistency, specifically at Mike and Spur. I'd like to see more of Larenz Bryant at Spur, and at Mike, at like to see Cedrick Cooper. But whoever plays, I'd like to see the staff settle on one guy and play him the entire game. I don't get the feeling that the coaches are super-satisfied with any of the linebackers right now besides the surprising Marcquis Roberts, who has been terrific in my opinion, and personally, I like the physical upside most based on what little I've seen from Cooper and Bryant.

CHRIS CLARK: Should there be? Probably. Unfortunately, there are roster limitations that prevent a huge shuffling by the coaching staff on defense namely at safety. Brison Williams is one of the defense's most experienced players, but his play has not been as strong as it needs to be so far this season on a consistent basis. T.J. Gurley has been good in run support, but had some struggles in coverage and J.J. Marcus has not emerged as a big playmaker either. USC's play at cornerback overall has been solid with Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. I do wonder if it would help to give Chaz Elder more of a look at free safety and Williams a look at strong (he moved over from there before this season) potentially, but the ideal scenario is just to get those guys playing better and correcting mistakes. Positional changes mid-season will probably not be a great answer long-term. At Spur, I would like to see more of what Larenz Bryant can do given his size and skill set, though he has not played a lot of football as a true freshman. I like more of what I have seen from T.J. Holloman at Mike and think he should be out there more at that position as well. It looks like Cedrick Cooper is getting back in the swing of things and he could help out at Will or Mike as well.

4. What has been your opinion of the defensive line play so far this season? Who has stood out on that group and who needs to step it up a little bit?

JOSH LOW: I think it has been OK. I don't think it has been as bad as some make it out to be. The defensive line was hyped all preseason and they haven't lived up to it. They haven't played bad either. Everyone knows the attention Jadeveon Clowney has been getting this season from offenses. The biggest disappointment to me from this group is that the others haven't taken advantage of that. I'm still waiting on that breakout game from Chaz Sutton. It wasn't just fans that expected Sutton to have a breakout year; scouts expected the same from watching him last season. Kelcy Quarles has played better lately, but is still inconsistent. I do think J.T. Surratt has been solid. The Dixon brothers have been solid in their limited action as well.

RON AIKEN: It's been average, which is a disappointment for a unit considered among the country's best. It is nowhere near one of the best units in the country right now, and I get that partially to blame on the seven players behind them being all over the place. Still, this group should be the anchor of the defense, should be generating havoc and creating all kinds of physical mismatches, and yet its numbers and effectiveness are mediocre to date.

CHRIS CLARK: Kelcy Quarles got off to a bad start with a first half suspension against UNC and then a subpar performance at Georgia. However, he has played better as of late. Jadeveon Clowney has still been disruptive with teams running away from him/gameplanning around him and giving left tackles help. J.T. Surratt has been solid as well. I think more has been expected to this point from Chaz Sutton in terms of making some big plays pass-rushing. I didn't expect him to have a Melvin Ingram-style breakout year, but I did think we would have seen his name called more so far this season. While the defensive line could certainly play better I don't think it's been the biggest issue with the defense this season; the back seven has been. Whereas last season USC had senior linebackers chasing down ball-carriers on the second level along with D.J. Swearinger, USC has a group of linebackers that is very inexperienced and no enforcer out there in the secondary. That will make the defensive line's performance look lacking at times.

5. What is one thing that could be a concern for South Carolina this weekend against Kentucky?

JOSH LOW: I don't think there is one big concern with Kentucky. There are definitely some concerns on South Carolina's end, the defense being the biggest one. They can't give up any big plays against Kentucky. The defense needs to play a complete game. They need to look like they are improving, definitely the young players. This is a game that South Carolina should win comfortable and that is what I expect.

RON AIKEN: Play a complete game. It doesn't have to be a huge, 54-3 blowout as it was in 2011, just go out and perform at a consistent level on both sides of the ball for four quarters. The team is about to embark on a critical road stretch, and for it to return home in November unblemished, it will have to start playing four complete quarters.

CHRIS CLARK: South Carolina always plays defense better at home, but the team also gave up big plays late to Vanderbilt this season that put the Dores right back in decent shape at the end of that game. That's the biggest concern for USC; having a third straight late-game meltdown on defense. Kentucky's offensive style tries to get the ball to playmakers and if USC lets guys get behind them on defense and do not tackle well in space then it could be a frustrating game.

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