Arguably the player that has had the most impact on the defense of tenth-ranked South Carolina has been spur Antonio Allen. The senior from Ocala, Florida leads the team in several categories, including tackles. Allen has 62 tackles on the season, 14 more than D.J. Swearinger. He also leads the team with three fumble recoveries and tied with Swearinger, Stephon Gilmore, and C.C. Whitlock with three interceptions. Allen has also forced three fumbles, deflected four passes, two quarterback hurries, and 6.5 tackles for loss.
Earlier this week Allen suffered a strained neck and has not practiced since. Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson says they have been treating it with heat and he expects Allen to be ready to go Saturday night when the Gamecocks take on eighth-ranked Arkansas. Johnson said if Allen wasn't available, it would go to the next person in line.
"He's obviously played very well this year and it would be a tremendous loss, but that's just part of football," Johnson said. "If he's not there, someone is going to have to step up and get the job done. I'm concerned he didn't have a full week of practice. He should be ready to roll on Saturday."
If Allen is unable to go, Demario Jeffery would likely get the start, though Johnson did not completely rule out DeVonte Holloman moving back if needed. In somewhat limited action, Jeffery has six tackles on the season and has deflected and broken up a pass.
"Demario has been playing very well for us," Johnson said. "Antonio has played so well he's just kept everybody else off the field. But Demario's had a good camp. Ever since we moved him, he's been consistent. The problem is if he goes too many snaps. But we've got to get ourselves off the field."
Whitlock will also return this week after missing the Tennessee game with a concussion he suffered in practice last week. Johnson said they still have not reached a decision on whether Whitlock or Marty Markett will start at corner opposite Gilmore.
"I don't know if Lorenzo (Ward) has made that decision," Johnson said. "They both have had a real good week of practice. I don't know which one he will go with."
Johnson and the rest of the defensive coordinators will need all the bodies they can get in the secondary against an Arkansas team that routinely uses four and even five receiver sets. The guy that gets those receivers the ball is a pretty good player.
Tyler Wilson has completed 175-of-279 passes, both SEC highs, and is third in completion percentage behind Alabama's A.J. McCarron and LSU's Jarrett Lee – who just happen to be the quarterbacks for the top two teams in the country – at just under 63%. He leads the league in passing by over 500 yards and is tied with Lee for second with 13 touchdown passes. Only Aaron Murray's 18 touchdown passes is higher.
"I remember he was a very good high school quarterback and he came from a great program," Johnson said. "I think he's coached by one of the best in the business. Bobby Petrino route schemes are so good. He's had the opportunity to play behind (Ryan) Mallett so certainly he learned from that too."
The Gamecock defense is second behind only Alabama by less than half a yard in the conference in pass defense. That is largely due to the fact that they have not seen a passing game quite like Arkansas' since the second week of the season. Navy does not throw the ball, Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Kentucky aren't great passing teams this season by any stretch of the imagination, and Mississippi State and Tennessee were going through quarterback changes. Johnson knows his secondary will be under attack all night like it has not seen so far this season.
"You would think so," Johnson said. "That's what they believe in. We haven't been challenged like this in the throwing game. It will be a big test. The key is can we get to the quarterback with four people effectively. If we do that frequently enough we'll be fine. If we don't, there's too much space in any coverage with the receivers they have and the way he can throw the ball."
Allen should play Saturday night
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