The latest word is that Kentucky's Derrick Locke is probably out for Saturday's game hosting No. 10 South Carolina due to two beat-up shoulders. Coach Joker Phillips says that Locke may have nerve damage along with a stinger in each joint.
"No, because you don't know if he's going to play or not," USC defensive head Ellis Johnson said on Thursday. "Got to be prepared."
Johnson's point was simple. Kentucky (3-3, 0-3 SEC) is averaging 434 yards of offense and 36 points per game. While Locke and Randall Cobb are a large part of that, the Wildcats have other contributors as well.
Locke's absence -- if it is an absence and not just coach-speak -- may help the Gamecocks, but it may not. Who's to say the guy who replaces Locke won't be as good, or better?
"They've made statements that they may run the Wildcat package a little bit more, but it was something we were probably going to focus on already," Johnson said. "As far as preparation, it hasn't, but he's an awfully good player. He's really made some great runs."
Johnson said that his defense has had a great week of practice, using redshirting freshman Victor Hampton to represent the elusive Cobb. The Gamecocks, by the great majority healthy, are hoping to stop Cobb and the Wildcats as well as they did then-No. 1 Alabama.
It won't be easy. The Wildcats have been rolling up points, and while Cobb and Locke draw the headlines, it's easy to ignore quarterback Mike Hartline, who has thrown for over 1,400 yards this season. Johnson expects numerous shifts and alignments on Saturday and his boys will have to be ready for them.
"(Cobb's) always in the game plan because they're always trying to get him the ball," Johnson said. "There's not a whole lot you can do about it. They move him around, he takes the snap at quarterback, he's in different alignments in wide-receiver spots. There's situations in which, coverage or other things, you've got to be aware of where he is.
"They got a good receiver corps and they've made some big-time plays. I think they're one of the best offenses in the conference."
USC (4-1, 2-1) will counter with the improving Melvin Ingram, who has been switching from defensive tackle to defensive end lately. He had two sacks against the Crimson Tide and will be playing the same kind of back-and-forth role on Saturday, partly out of necessity with Chaz Sutton's right hand still encased in a cast.
"Really gave us a good pass-rush the other day at defensive end," Johnson said. "With Chaz's hand, he couldn't do as much pass-rush tonight. I think Brad (Lawing) thought maybe Melvin could help us out there."
The Gamecocks will also hope that the linebacker duo of Tony Straughter and Josh Dickerson -- nicknamed the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" -- will continue to be on their games while free safety D.J. Swearinger repeats his performance from last week. Swearinger will start again over Akeem Auguste, although Auguste will play due to thin numbers.
As for dealing with the problem of shelving Alabama and focusing on Kentucky, Johnson said he has seen great effort during practice but has no idea of knowing if it's for real until kickoff.
"Kentucky is a really good offense," he said. "If you've got a great athlete back there that can run and throw, it makes a big difference. Still got to go play the game."
NOTE: Rodney Paulk remains limited on his surgically repaired knees but will play, while Sutton could play in a pinch. Reggie Bowens is back on the mend with a hamstring problem and probably won't travel. He has played in two games this year but did not record any statistics.
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