Throughout the season, GamecockCentral.com will examine the five biggest individual matchups of the upcoming game. This week's opponent is Southern Miss.
TODAY: QB Austin Davis vs. Spurs Antonio Allen/Damario Jeffery
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It seemed a lot easier before Tuesday's press conference.
Antonio Allen, projected to start at Spur against Southern Mississippi on Thursday, was said to be questionable for the game. "Actually, Antonio Allen pulled his hamstring two days ago out there just covering a punt," coach Steve Spurrier said. "I don't know if he's going to be able to play either."
Allen reported to practice on Tuesday in a normal white jersey, but backup Damario Jeffery was working with the first-team defense in the early drills. It might be a case where the sophomore, who has been listed as one of the Gamecocks' quickest up-and-comers, has to play almost the whole game with no backup.
Jeffery is a natural for the position, having played in 12 of 13 games last year, but has never started. It could be another spot where the Golden Eagles, who lost their top two rushers from a year ago and are expected to frequently throw the ball on Thursday, see an advantage.
"Last year was strange to me," Jeffery said during camp. "I could have made a lot of plays. I didn't do as good as I wanted to, but I did better than I guess the coaches expected. I guess I did decent."
"Decent" has to be substantially better in two days.
Eagles quarterback Austin Davis may have a quite easier defense to face if the Gamecocks are forced to play without several starters due to an NCAA investigation, but that is not definite. What is definite is that linebacker (and 2009 leading tackler) Shaq Wilson is most likely out with a hamstring pull and run-stopper Byron Jerideau recently suffered a rib injury, which left him with a yellow jersey on Tuesday.
If Allen is out as well, Davis may be looking to hit his number-one target, receiver DeAndre Brown, over the spur and other members of the secondary. While Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver are expected to be at their cornerback spots with DeVonte Holloman at strong safety, the free safety role may be shaken up as well.
Right now, Jeffery seems to be the guy. Allen has credited his backup throughout the past two years, saying Jeffery's work ethic and wonderful athleticism is pushing him every day.
"He's a good competitor, he's a good learner, I'm just trying to maintain the spot," Allen said last week. "I've got a little experience. I'm just trying to carry what I bring in practice onto the games."
The spur is so crucial to Ellis Johnson's scheme, a hybrid linebacker/defensive back who can shift up to play the run or drop back into pass coverage. Mostly held by Darian Stewart for the past two years, the spot has become synonymous with Johnson's lauded defense.
Johnson wants the spot's productivity to be as good as it was, if not increase. While it may be a tall task should Jeffery get his first start on Thursday, it can be done.
"Antonio's a very good guy, if he starts ahead of me, then he beat me out for it," Jeffery said. "I try to push him every day, he's going to push me."
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