After a much-needed week off, a battered fourteenth ranked South Carolina football team returned to practice Monday night at the practice fields to prepare for Saturday night's contest against Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. It was the first time the team practiced since taking off for fall break following last Thursday's practice.
Two players who have been nursing injuries are defensive backs Victor Hampton and Brison Williams. Hampton, who did not practice Monday due to a quad injury suffered in the 14-12 win over Mississippi State two weeks ago, is expected to be ready for Saturday's contest.
"We think he will probably get some reps tomorrow in practice and he'll be full speed on Wednesday," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "He did a good job running today."
Williams, who did not make the trip to Starkville, has since returned to practice and will also be back Saturday night.
"He's doing ok," Ward said. "He's back full speed after the quad injury that he had, so we're looking to see him play some more."
The Gamecock defense will be facing a familiar face in the state of South Carolina in Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. Worley, who played high school football for Northwestern in Rock Hill, will be making the first start of his college career. Starting quarterback Tyler Bray injured his thumb in Tennessee's loss to Georgia earlier this month. Bray, who came in for Matt Simms in the match-up last season in Columbia and threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns, was having a great season for the Vols prior to the injury. Bray has completed nearly 66% of his passes and has thrown for 1,579 yards and 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Bray was replaced by Simms, who sparked a mini-rally late in the 20-12 loss to Georgia, but Simms struggled in last week's 37-6 loss to Alabama. Simms completed just 8-of-17 passes for 58 yards and one interception. Simms was replaced late by Worley for his debut, but Worley has yet to attempt a pass and has just one run for no yards.
"The young man is obviously a good football player," Ward said. "He was the PARADE Player of the Year at Northwestern and won a state championship. I told (Jadeveon) Clowney that he beat him, so we're going to take it a little personal. We've got to go play and play to get better as the Gamecocks. Tennessee is going to give us their best shot. It boils down to how we play."
Worley's Northwestern team defeated Clowney's South Pointe team in last year's state championship game.
Despite playing in the state and being seen by the South Carolina coaches, Ward believes there's no real advantage in forming a gameplan against Worley than any other quarterback making his collegiate debut.
"You never know how a young man reacts from high school to college," Ward said. "This will be his first opportunity to throw the football in a ball game. He took some snaps Saturday but he didn't throw it. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to playing against us.
"We'll do what we're going to gameplan to do," Ward continued. "I'm sure when the situation arises we will put pressure on him."
Da'Rick Rogers, a 6-3, 215 sophomore has become a favorite target for Bray and will likely be Worley's top target as well. Rogers is the team leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Rogers has caught 37 passes for 608 yards and six touchdowns.
Rogers entered the season as the number two receiver behind fellow sophomore Justin Hunter, but Hunter tore his ACL in the third game of the season against Florida. Hunter already had 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns when he was injured.
"He's a really good player," Ward said. "He's become their go-to guy since they lost their best receiver early in the season, so he's the guy they've been throwing the ball to."
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