Banged up defense prepares for Tigers

It will no doubt take a special effort to stop the Clemson Tigers on Saturday night, but Ellis Johnson and the rest of the USC defensive staff are busy preparing for that challenge. Making it more difficult to stop the explosive attack led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the number of Gamecocks nursing injuries this week.

For much of the 2011 season, the Clemson Tigers have been lighting up the scoreboard under first year offensive coordinator Chad Morris. At the helm of this revival is quarterback Tajh Boyd, a first year starter who has helped Clemson average thirty-five points per game.

And despite struggling in a loss to North Carolina State last weekend, Clemson will be facing a defense that has several regulars trying to get healed up for the big game.

"Oh I don't know, we'll just have to see what happens," said Ellis Johnson following the Citadel game. "I don't want to speculate on it too much. There's key, key guys right now that are not practicing that are getting to play. And there are some key guys right now that we don't know if they're going to practice or play. So we'll just have to wait and see. That's part of football at this time of the year, and we'll just see who's ready to go and who's not."

Among the major contributors who were injured last week or have been dealing with recurring injuries are Devonte Holloman, Damario Jeffery, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Swearinger, and Shaq Wilson.

"Well, we've got Clowney and two or three others right now, that we hope are not serious," said Johnson. "Devonte (Holloman) had to come out of the game and be put back on the status of having a concussion. Clowney came out. Reggie Bowens got a shoulder on the first kickoff. I didn't have two linebackers at the end of the game. We've got some major, major problems right now. Damario Jeffrey's probably gone. DJ Swearinger hasn't practiced in two weeks and he's playing that way. It's just been really tough. Hopefully we'll get him back, but he's not the only one. We've got a bunch of them right now that'd be questionable. They probably won't practice the full practice week next week."

After giving up twenty points to the Citadel last Saturday, Johnson said he was disappointed with what some of the back-up players brought to the table after several starters missed or had to leave the game early with injuries.

"I'm disappointed in some of the backup guys," said Johnson. "They got scholarships in a Southeastern Conference school too, and some of them are not playing very consistently and not playing very well. There shouldn't be that kind of drop off. Your starters are obviously your best players but there shouldn't be the kind of drop off we're getting right now. Some of these guys are getting the opportunity to play and they need to step up and get it done."

Clemson's fast paced, spread attack has given several teams fits this year, but Johnson did say that USC had at least played a few teams with a similar style of offense, and hope to correct their mistakes from those contests. Clemson's Chad Morris is a disciple of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

"I don't think we'll have any problems switching back over," said Johnson. "It's that late in the year that I think our guys, they certainly know what we do. We've played Auburn and Mississippi State that are very similar in the style of attack, so you've got some games where you can go back and draw upon I guess. And we'll try to change a few things up that didn't work well."

Although planning his defense to guard against a hot offense may give him a headache this week, Johnson said that more than anything he is always excited to play the Tigers. With his familiarity with the state of South Carolina and Clemson University, it is safe to say this is a personal battle that Johnson wants to win very badly.

"Oh I'm always excited about it," said Johnson. "I have a lot of personal background associated with the schools and the high schools in this state in football. I always think it's a great game. It's a tough game for me. I've got a lot of close friends up there and it's tough. Hopefully it will be a good game. We've got a lot of work to do if we're going to make it a good game. Hopefully it will be the type of game everyone's hyping it up to be."

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