South Carolina will try to get better - by getting younger.
Walk-on Marty Markett will start at cornerback when No. 22 South Carolina visits No. 24 Florida on Saturday with the SEC East championship on the line. Markett, a former USC track star who gave up a full scholarship to be a walk-on football player, will start over C.C. Whitlock, who sustained a concussion against Arkansas last week.
Whether it will have an effect on the SEC's worst pass defense remains to be seen, but going into the 10th game of the year, the old way surely wasn't working.
"Whether we win the East or not, each week we try to get them to understand, we really haven't played well," defensive head Ellis Johnson said on Thursday. "I think the focus is on playing as good as we can play. The talk really hasn't been about what this is for."
The Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3) had their problems in the secondary rudely exposed last week to Ryan Mallett and Arkansas, and it's naturally an unsettling thought going into this week. What's somewhat comforting is that Florida doesn't have nearly the type of passing attack of Arkansas, preferring to work side-to-side instead of casting downfield.
But as Johnson knows, the Gators (6-3, 4-3) have plenty of other weapons besides the pass, namely an option running game that has become more bedeviling by the week. Florida is using a three-headed quarterback system to present several different looks, saving main QB John Brantley from trying to be who he replaced (Tim Tebow).
Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed have combined with Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and company to present a dazzling rushing game, which is also a large concern for the Gamecocks. USC let an unheralded Razorbacks running game (although maybe it's that way due to the greatness of the passing game) to collect 140 yards last week after spending all season being very strong against the run.
And Florida won't be coming straight ahead.
"If you take a false step or put your eyes on the wrong thing, it's just so fast," Johnson said. "The speed of it and the execution of it is just phenomenal."
Markett will take the place of the injured Whitlock, although Whitlock will travel and could play as an emergency backup. The secondary will also see a rotation among its safeties, putting D.J. Swearinger, DeVonte Holloman and Akeem Auguste into a three-man cycle with starting spots likely not decided until just before kickoff.
"It's going to be almost a constant three-way rotation," Johnson said. "I'm not sure who we feel most comfortable with now to start the game."
Stephon Gilmore and Antonio Allen will resume their spots and, Johnson hopes, will join with every member of the secondary in playing their best game of the season. USC has a chance to make history and if it is to do so, cannot fall into the trap of having the offense save it - which is what's happened since halftime of the Kentucky game.
"But anytime you've got speed, anytime you've got a guy that can throw the ball, anytime you spend as much time as they do on the option game, you can be effective," Johnson said. "If you don't stop their running game, with the counters and options and so forth, it becomes a moot point."
NOTES: Whitlock, Jarriel King (concussion), DeMario Bennett (ankle) and walk-on Bret Morgan wore yellow on Thursday. … Chaz Sutton (right hand) practiced with the limb bandaged. Brandan Davis continues to wear a club cast on his right hand. … Players in yellow or otherwise shelved were: Ryan Broadhead (knee), Shaq Wilson (hamstring), Chris Culliver (chest), DeAngelo Smith (toe) and J.T. Surratt (shoulder).
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