The South Carolina football team wrapped up it's final practice in Columbia on Thursday afternoon before heading to Lexington, Kentucky to face the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday night at 6:00 P.M. on ESPN2. The Gamecocks enter the game 4-1 (2-1) while the Wildcats are 3-3 (0-3). Gamecocks assistant head coach Ellis Johnson met with the media following Thursday's practice.
The big news coming down today was the news that Kentucky has officially ruled running back Derrick Locke out of Saturday's game with shoulder stingers on both shoulders. Locke is the leading rusher for the Wildcats, rushing for 597 yards and seven touchdowns. Locke was also second on the team in receiving with 225 yards. The news did not come out until the Gamecocks were already on the practice field so Johnson still hadn't heard, but it didn't matter.
"You've got to be prepared (anyways)," Johnson said. "They made statements they may run the ‘wildcat' package a little bit more, but it was something we were probably going to focus on already so as far as preparations it hasn't."
What the Gamecocks will see a lot of is all-everything Randall Cobb. Cobb has 1,056 all-purpose yards this season and has accounted for 11 touchdowns.
"He's always in the (defensive) game plan because they're always trying to get him the ball," Johnson said. "They move him around, takes some snaps at quarterback, and some different alignments at the wide receiver spot. So there's not a lot you can about creating some special defenses, but there's situations in which coverage and other things you've got to be aware of where he is."
Cobb will see time as kick returner, punt returner, wide receiver, running back, and quarterback. Cobb is even the holder for field goals and extra points. Cobb is most dangerous when playing quarterback in the ‘wildcat' formation.
"It's always hard," Johnson said of defending the ‘wildcat.' "If you've got a great athlete back there that can run and throw, it makes a big difference.
"He hasn't played it as much, but we've seen him as a quarterback when he first got there," Johnson continued. "We've seen Cobb enough to know how good he is, and anytime you've got a double-threat back there like him makes it very tough."
The "other" Kentucky quarterback isn't too bad himself. Starter Mike Hartline, who suffered a season-ending injury to the Gamecocks last season, has enjoyed a successful year. Hartline is second in the SEC in passing yards behind Arkansas' Ryan Mallett with 240 yards per game. His nine touchdown passes ties him with Alabama's Greg McElroy for fourth.
"I think he's a great player," Johnson said. "I think the reason that people have underrated him is that they haven't really been in the thick of the race and some of the guys on some of those other teams get most of the attention, but he's right up there with Mallett as far as passing yards. He's a big, tall guy that can see and can make any throw on the field. When they give him time he's really good."
Without Locke, Hartline loses one of his biggest targets coming out of the backfield, but he still has a few weapons. Along with Cobb, 6'5 receiver Chris Matthews leads the team in touchdown receptions with five.
"They've got a good receiver corp and they've made some big time plays and I think they're one of the best offenses in the conference," Johnson said. "They're putting up 36 points per game and it's nothing but excellent football players making excellent plays. Kentucky is a really good offense."
Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram got some reps against Alabama at defensive end last week and Johnson expects that to continue this week against the Wildcats.
"He's moved out to defensive end now and he's giving us reps at both positions," Johnson said. "He really gave us a good pass rush at defensive end (against Alabama) so he's really helped out at two different places."
Also, safety D.J. Swearinger will get the starting nod over Akeem Auguste. Auguste has seemed to adjusted well to his new role.
"He's handled it fine," Johnson said. "Of course he's still playing a lot because we're still thin back there. We're only playing about five guys back there on a rotational basis so, although Swearinger's been given the starting nod - he's still playing a bunch."
All the talk around the football program this week has been regaining focus after last week's win over #1 Alabama. The players have all seemed to put it behind them and are focused on Kentucky.
"We've had a great week of practice, good focus, but you've still got to go play the game," Johnson said.
Locke Out for Kentucky
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