Brinkley looking forward to facing Rebs, Nix

As Carolina prepares to face Ole Miss in Oxford on Saturday afternoon, game week chatter has primarily focused on two topics: 1) a Gamecock defense which is statistically ranked number one nationally, and 2) facing former defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, now in the same role with the Rebels.

Senior linebacker Jasper Brinkley is understandably proud of what is believed to be the first time in school history that the ‘Cocks have held the top spot in the Total Defense rankings. But with less than half of the regular season in the books, the preseason All-SEC pick is hesitant to assign any undue meaning to the ranking.

"I really don't think it does (have great meaning) because it doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish," he said. "We just want to go out and play football to the best of our ability. We're not worrying about the stats or anything like that. We just want another opportunity to go out and prove that we can play football.

"We know we've got a big target on us now and every team we play is going to try and expose us. We just keep that in the back of our minds and tell each other to stay disciplined and to keep doing the things that we do, like swarming to the ball."

Brinkley's play will be crucial in the Gamecock D's success down the stretch, as six straight conference games, followed by the season finale versus Clemson, are on the docket for the ‘Cocks. His dominant season in '06 (107 tackles, 84 solo) was followed by a redshirt year in '07, due to a season-ending knee injury sustained at LSU early in the campaign.

A slow start this season (3 total tackles in the first two games) had some wondering if Brinkley's knee was completely healed, but the massive man in the middle refuses to use the injury as an excuse.

"I think what was wrong the first couple of games," he explained, "was that I was trying to do too much. (I was) not paying attention to my keys and trying to freelance. I was trying to do things other than what my responsibility was when I have ten other players around me that are great football players. Now I don't have to try and make all the tackles."

As for his knee, Brinkley insists it is as good as ever.

"I feel like I am 100% back," Brinkley asserted. "I've taken some shots on it and it didn't affect me. I don't have any fear (of re-injury) anymore."

Depth on the defensive side of the ball is much improved since Brinkley's big year two seasons ago, when the transfer from Georgia Military College seemingly made every stop. The number of tackles may be decreasing, but there is an upside to not having to be on the field for every snap.

"Coach (Johnson) always told me how his rotation is. He always has a rotation so that later in the game, I'll be fresh. I'm alright with it. You've got to be a team player."

Brinkley is committed to Ellis Johnson and his scheme, calling himself "very comfortable" with it, but makes no bones about the special relationship he and Nix had both on and off the field; a relationship that continues to this day.

"It's going to be kind of tough," Brinkley said of facing his former mentor on Saturday. "Just knowing what kind of bond we had and being able to see him. But it's football and we've got to go out and do our job. We can talk after the game."

Gamecock fans, whether they realize it or not, are indebted to Nix. After all, it was he whom was most instrumental in Brinkley coming back for his final year of eligibility.

"I had said that I was going to leave if he (Nix) left," Brinkley confirmed. "Me and him had a bond so tight, so close, like a father-son type relationship. I felt like there was really no reason to be here.

"But he sat me down and talked to me and told me that the best thing for me to do was to come back to school no matter if he left or not. I put my trust in him. I felt like he knew what he was talking about, which he did. Now I'm a part of a number one defense, which is something I've never been a part of. I'm glad I stayed."

It's clear that Brinkley is looking forward to seeing his former "father-figure" come Saturday. Rest assured that there is nothing that he would like more than to have a monster game, one to make Nix proud.

Just like the old days.

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