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September 3, 2014

Sport gets nod, Knott likely

The lineup changes Steve Spurrier initially spoke about on Sunday in the aftermath of the season-opening loss to Texas A&M are coming to fruition.

Redshirt junior Will Sport is set to start at right guard, South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott confirmed Wednesday, while redshirt freshman Alan Knott appears to be the choice at center when USC faces East Carolina Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium (7 p.m., ESPNU).

Sport, mostly a special teams contributor for the past two seasons, will make his second career start at right guard, while Knott would be starting for the first time after redshirting in 2013.

"I'm not 100 percent sure yet (who will start at center), but Alan Knott has had a good week of practice," Elliott said Wednesday following a two-hour workout at the Proving Grounds. "These guys all work hard. They all deserve a chance to get in there and show what they can do. Maybe it's his (Knott) week this week."

Sport made his only career start at Tennessee last year when he replaced the injured Ronald Patrick and appeared in eight of 13 games. He replaces Cody Waldrop, who started the opener at right guard and six games last season at center.

"Will Sport will start at right guard this week," Elliot exclaimed. "He had a great camp. He's worked hard and he's going to be given the opportunity to go out there and get the job done."

Sport's "calm demeanor" should serve his well when he's on the field, Elliott said.

"He doesn't get overanxious," Elliott said. "Cody is a great player and I really like him because he is so competitive. But sometimes he gets overaggressive and it puts him in a bad situation. Both of those guys have great abilities and they have their faults. But Sport has a calmer mentality and doesn't get all riled up.

"Cody didn't play any worse than any of the rest of our guys, I can assure you. But it's just a situation we have and we're going to see if the change (helps), But just because you start doesn't mean you're playing the whole game. They put the starters on the program. He (Sport) may play one snap and be out of there."

While he has not yet been christened the definite starter at center (Elliott: "It's not a foregone conclusion that he's going to start, but he has worked well enough to probably get the opportunity"), Knott told reporters he has worked there with the first-team offensive line for most of the week.

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"That's the plan so far. I've been starting O-Line all week," Knott said. "I'm looking forward to it. I want to let people know who I am. I took a few snaps at guard back a few weeks ago, but I've been playing strictly center. This (opportunity) means so much to me.

"We have three good guys who can play center. Cody Waldrop has proved himself, Clayton Stadnik proved himself last year. They're great centers. Playing behind them last year as a redshirt and learning so much from them has really helped me out a lot."

Even though he redshirted in 2013, Knott traveled to every road game in 2013 and has dressed for most home games, so he has stood in front of 80,000 fans wearing a Gamecock uniform.

Now the question becomes whether he can snap the ball sharply back to the quarterback with all those sets of eyes watching his every move.

"I've been in front of the crowd," Knott said. "I played a little bit last week in the fourth (quarter), so I got a little bit of a feel for it. It's just strictly confidence for me right now."

Knott, who signed with USC in 2013, played offensive tackle at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, Ga. But he was recruited by USC specifically to play center.

"From Day 1, Coach Elliott told me I was a center," Knott said.

He suffered a meniscus tear in his right knee in a weight room mishap in July during the final month of summer workouts and missed the first part of preseason camp after undergoing arthroscopic surgery.

As he rehabbed from the procedure, Knott worked extensively on his shotgun snaps and that hard work appears to have paid off.

"It was pretty frustrating (not being able to practice), but I got through it and worked hard at it," Knott said. "My plan was to come back stronger than I was and work as hard as I could to get to where I wanted to be. They told me it would take six to eight weeks, but I got back in five."

Will the pair of lineup changes spark the USC offensive line following a sluggish performance in the opener when the unit failed to live up to the preseason hype.

"Anybody who wears a Gamecock jersey or represents our football program was not satisfied with anything we did last week, from getting off the bus to walking into the stadium and getting our tails kicked," Elliott exclaimed. "It was a very disappointing outing for us. It gets your attention.

"But we faced a very good football team. They came out well-prepared and they took it to us. We expect the same thing from East Carolina this week. We have to hone in on some of the skills that we've set throughout the course of camp and bring them out on game day. We have our backs to the wall, so to speak. We have to dig our cleats in and stand our ground and come out and fight."

The Pirates run a 3-4 scheme and have for the last few years, ever since they finished last in the country in total defense in 2010. Head coach Ruffin McNeill mentored Elliott at Appalachian State when the latter was playing for the Mountaineers in the early 1990s and became the first player in school history to appear four times in the FCS (then known as Division I-AA) playoffs.

"East Carolina is a great football team and they're very well coached by Ruffin McNeill," Elliott said. "I love him to death. He was one of my position coaches when I was in college. I know they're going to come out fired up ready to play us."


-- Elliott on USC's running game: ""We've put a little more emphasis on it. We had some opportunities to run the football last week. It just didn't work out. We've got some backs that want to run it. We've got some lineman that want to block for it. We'll see how it pans out on Saturday."

-- USC announced Wednesday that quarterback Dylan Thompson has been awarded the Tommy Suggs Endowed Quarterback Scholarship. Thompson is a senior Sport and Entertainment Management major. Per USC, "Steve Spurrier selected Thompson to receive this award based on his exemplary performance and leadership on and off the field."

-- USC announced Wednesday that the 2015 opening game between South Carolina and North Carolina will be played on Thursday, Sept. 3, instead of the originally scheduled date of Sept. 5, meaning the Gamecocks will again launch the college football season. While no details have been released, the game should be televised by ESPN or the SEC Network with kickoff around 6 or 7 p.m.

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