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October 9, 2009

Final News and Notes: Early Edition

It's time for another weekend of college football in the SEC so that must mean a fresh starting lineup for the South Carolina defense.

That's six games, six different lineups for USC since the start of the season if you're keeping score at home.

This week's projected defensive depth chart features two new starters in middle linebacker Josh Dickerson and defensive end Clifton Geathers. Dickerson will make the first start of his career in place of Shaq Wilson, who is still recovering from a sprained neck. Wilson, though, is expected to play.

"They have the go-ahead to Shaq (Thursday) to go full speed but I'm going to give Josh the start because he's practiced all week," Assistant Head Coach for Defense Ellis Johnson said. "Josh is getting a lot better. Fundamentally and physically, he's as good a Shaq. There's still some little things we have to control with the defense as far as the checks, the calls and setting the fronts. But he's made a lot of progress."

Spur linebacker Antonio Allen appears to finally be cleared of his slight concussion and should make his third career start on Saturday afternoon.

"He's been practicing full speed and playing full speed," Johnson said. "I don't think he's had any more complications. They let him play in a white shirt and go full speed."

With Akeem Auguste serving the second game of a supposed three-game suspension (he is expected to be reinstated in time for the Vanderbilt game), depth in the secondary remains a concerns, particularly at the cornerback position.

"We're never going to feel comfortable when we have the kind of depth problems we have," Johnson said. "I feel comfortable and have full confidence in the guys that are playing, but when you're into the SEC slate with the depth problems we've got, you're always a little nervous.

Right now, Johnson plans to rotate Stephon Gilmore, C.C. Whitlock and D.J. Swearinger at the two cornerback positions with little-used junior Addison Williams prepared for duty.

"Addy will be available to play depending on how the game goes," Johnson said. "But if we don't have to play too many plays and those guys hold up OK, the only three guys you'll see are D.J., C.C. and Stephon. But if something happens and we have to move D.J. to safety or we play five or six DB's a lot, it will just depend on the reps."

Head coach Steve Spurrier announced Thursday night on his weekly call-in show that junior Clifton Geathers will make his second career start at defensive end.

Here is the projected depth chart for the USC defense when they take the field against Kentucky shortly before the 12:30 p.m. kickoff:

DE: Clifton Geathers (Taylor)
DT: Nathan Pepper (Fordham)
DT: Ladi Ajiboye (Ingram)
DE: Cliff Matthews (McKnight, Sutton)
WLB: Eric Norwood (Straughter)
MLB: Josh Dickerson (Wilson)
SPR: Antonio Allen (D. Jeffery)
CB: Stephon Gilmore (Swearinger)
FS: Chris Culliver (Burns)
SS: Darian Stewart (Holloman)
CB: C.C. Whitlock (Swearinger, Williams)

MANGUS EXCITED ABOUT GARCIA'S PROGRESS: Saturday afternoon's start against Kentucky represents QB Stephen Garcia's ninth career start. Six of those have come against SEC teams. With 1,867 passing yards, he has an excellent chance to zoom past the career 2,000-yard passing mark.

"I was excited the day I got here because I saw him play in high school and thought he had the potential to be a really good college quarterbacks," Mangus said. "I still believe in him. And he's starting to show why I felt that why. But he's not where we want him to be yet. He's five games into his sophomore year. He's still got a long ways to go and hopefully many great games to go here as a Gamecock. I'm glad he's back for another 2-1/2 years."

According to Mangus, Garcia has improved significantly with his progressions, his eyes shifting quickly from one receiver to another if they're covered.

"He's getting down to his check down number three," Mangus said. "We always talk about going from one to two to three. That's not easy. When you start getting a guy that understands to get it underneath, he has a chance to be pretty good."

Although Spurrier wants Garcia to remain in the pocket as long as possible, he remains a feared scrambler. His 36 carries is third highest on the team behind Brian Maddox (52 carries) and Jarvis Giles (39).

"You want the feet to be a weapon too," Mangus said. "Last week he had nowhere to go with the ball when he took off. We've worked on getting north, diving and falling forward and getting on the ground. He did that and it was one of his best plays of the game. He picked up the first down. The defense played a perfect coverage and covered every guy we had. He went through his progressions and then ran. That's what we want."

Besides improving his passing statistics, Garcia has limited his mistakes. Through five games, he has thrown only two interceptions. Overall, USC is plus-four in turnover margin after a disastrous 2008 campaign in which USC quarterbacks tossed 27 interceptions, most in the nation.

"I'm very proud of the fact he's taken care of the ball," Mangus said. "I've told him that. In general, it's helped the offense. We've taken much better care of the ball. But it needs to be a season-long goal of taking care of the ball. So it needs to continue."

LANNING CLOSE TO PERFECT: USC won last year's Kentucky game despite kicker Ryan Succop missing four field goal attempts. This year, Spencer Lanning is healthy (despite a recent prank at practice) and has been perfect since starting the season by missing a 27-yard field goal at NC State. Another field goal attempt was sabotaged by a bad snap. Overall, Lanning is 10-of-11, including 6-of-6 from 30 yards or more, and is tied for the SEC lead in field goal percentage.

"The NC State game, I'm sort of glad it happened, because it made us work harder," Lanning said. "It got us to where we are today. The first one was a botched snap. The second one, I just missed it. We've worked very hard, day in and day out. Charles Turner (long snapper), Stephen Flint (holder) and the whole field goal team."

Lanning has remained consistent with his punting, averaging 41.9 yards on 22 punts so far in 2009. His longest is 55 yards. Eleven have been fair caught, while six have landed inside the 20-yard line. None, thankfully, have been blocked.

But for all his kicking exploits, Lanning's best moment this season may have come when he tackled Marshay Green of Ole Miss on a second quarter punt return, saving a touchdown. The play loomed large at the end of USC's 16-10 victory.

"I've had a lot of people ask me about that," Lanning said. "There are so many different plays that can be game-changing plays. For that to be considered a game-changing tackle is a little odd. At the time, I didn't know what it was. It was just a play that had to be made. I saw him coming up the field and I was praying he didn't try to go back out to the big part of the field. He cut back and I had a step on him, I grabbed him and held on for dear life."

FROM PALMETTO TO BLUEGRASS: Kentucky has made inroads in South Carolina among other states in recruiting since Rich Brooks took over as head coach in 2003. The Wildcats have seven players on its 2009 roster from the Palmetto State with most of them from the Upstate:

Calvin Harrison - Columbia (Richland Northeast HS)
Matt Lentz - Simpsonville (Greenville)
Antwane Glenn - Pacolet (Broome)
Antonio Thomas - Cowpens (Broome)
Gene McCaskill - Chester (Chester HS)
Cartier Rice - Duncan (Byrnes)
Taylor Wyndham - Swansea (Swansea HS)

McCaskill and USC cornerback C.C, Whitlock were teammates at Chester High School, while Lentz attended Greenville High with current USC DT Nathan Pepper. USC has one player on its roster from Kentucky - WR D.L. Moore, who graduated from Bowling Green High in Bowling Green, Ky.

USC-UK HISTORY: South Carolina and Kentucky met only three times on the gridiron before USC joined the SEC in 1992. They've met every year since then. The Wildcats enjoyed the advantage in the 1990's, but since 2000 the series has been dominated by the Gamecocks with nine straight wins. Here is how the series has fared since 2000:

2000 - USC, 20-17 (Lexington)
2001 - USC, 42-6 (Columbia)
2002 - USC, 16-12 (Lexington)
2003 - USC, 27-21 (Columbia)
2004 - USC, 12-7 (Lexington)
2005 - USC, 44-16 (Columbia)
2006 - USC, 24-17 (Lexington)
2007 - USC, 38-23 (Columbia)
2008 - USC, 24-17 (Lexington)

USC has won the last four games at Williams-Brice Stadium by an average margin of 18.8 points, while the games at Commonwealth Stadium have been much closer.

WEATHER FORECAST: The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon's game in Columbia is hot. Literally. Temperatures for the 12:30 p.m. kickoff are expected to be in the mid-80's with sunny skies. By the time the game reaches the second half, temperatures are forecasted to soar to about 90 degrees with an increasing chance of rain.

SEC SCHEDULE (Sat. 10/10):
Vanderbilt at Army, Noon (CBS College Sports)
Auburn at Arkansas, Noon (ESPN)
Georgia at Tennessee, 12:20 p.m. (SEC Network)
Houston at Mississippi State, 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Kentucky at USC, 12:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South)
Alabama at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
Florida at LSU, 8 p.m. (CBS)
(All Times Eastern)

Open: None.

NEXT WEEK (10/17): USC travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to face Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time since 2004. The game will be televised by either CBS or ESPN depending on the kickoff time. A formal announcement may be made late Saturday night or Sunday concerning which game CBS will televise. Other key games next Saturday include Arkansas at Florida, Kentucky at Auburn and Georgia at Vanderbilt.

MISCELLANEOUS: Last week's victory improved Steve Spurrier's record with USC to 32-23 (.582) in his fifth season as USC head coach. . .Those 32 wins rank seventh on the school's all-time wins list. He is one win behind Lou Holtz. . .Overall, his career coaching record is 221-104-2. . .USC has won 65 games in the 2000's, two more than the 1980's (63 wins). . .Since the beginning of the 1999 season, USC is 65-60. . .USC's 12 opponents are a combined 31-23 (.574) in 2009. . .A win Saturday would give USC a 5-1 record for the second time in three years. . .USC has won five straight games at Williams-Brice Stadium dating back to the Tennessee game last season. . .USC leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 13-6-1. . .Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson has 215 career tackles. . .UK ranks in the top five of six SEC statistical categories, including first in fourth-down conversions. . .Kentucky's Derrick Locke leads the SEC in all-purpose yards with an average of 173.0 yards per game. . .UK's Randall Cobb ranks in the Top 10 of four SEC statistical categories and has scored at least one touchdown in five of the last seven games. . .UK is 38-174-5 all-time against Top 25 opponents. . .USC is 2-0 against Kentucky when the Gamecocks are ranked. . .UK was 1-3 in SEC road games last season. . .UK has been outscored 45-16 in the first quarter this season.

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