By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer’s not sure of what to expect from his defense — and that’s even before this weekend’s game with No. 1 Georgia.
The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) will be without starters defensive end Jordan Strachan and linebacker Mo Kaba, both lost for the year after ACL injuries in last week’s 44-30 loss at No. 10 Arkansas.
But Beamer said the lineup could be minus starting defensive backs R.J. Roderick and Cam Smith, starting defensive tackle Alex Huntley and backup DB David Spaulding, all banged-up heading to practice this week and questionable to face the Bulldogs (2-0), who start SEC play Saturday.
“Our depth,” Beamer said, “isn’t where it needs to be.”
Especially when facing the defending national champions, who’ve looked flawless in picking up where they’ve left off. Georgia’s outscored opponents No. 25 Oregon and Samford 82-3 behind quarterback Stetson Bennett and a host of playmakers on offense.
South Carolina’s defense, which figured to take significant steps forward in Beamer’s second season, is off to a sluggish start.
The Gamecocks surrendered 200 yards rushing to Sun Belt opponent Georgia State and trailed 14-12 in the second half before special teams had two punt-block TDs in a 35-14 victory.
Last week, South Carolina couldn’t slow down Arkansas’s potent ground game as the Razorbacks went for 295 yards rushing in putting away the Gamecocks. Rocket Sanders had 156 yards and two of Arkansas’ five rushing touchdowns.
Things don’t figure to get better this week. Georgia is averaging an SEC-leading 525 yards a game and 7.66 yards gained on each snap.
Linebacker Sherrod Greene, in his sixth season, expects to see more playing time with Kaba sidelined. Greene, who’s 2020 and 2021 seasons were cut short because of injury, had eight tackles at Arkansas and feels as healthy as he has in some time.
Losing Kaba and Strachan hurt the unit, Greene said, “but a lot of guys got to step up and try to fill their positions.”
And leadership, Beamer said. Strachan, who led South Carolina with three tackles for loss, was a defensive captain opening week with Kaba a captain for Arkansas.
Beamer said there were too many missed tackles against Arkansas, something the Gamecocks can’t afford if they hope to compete with the SEC’s best teams. He deferred to defensive coordinator Clayton White about how many such errors are acceptable during a game. “But even one is too many for me,” Beamer said.
Both Kaba and Strachan will need surgery, which will most likely be scheduled sometime in the next four to six weeks, Beamer said.
Both Kaba and Strachan had worked hard in the offseason and were off to strong starts. Injuries, Beamer said, are a sad and disappointing aspect of college football. “That’s part of it. Hate it, but no one’s sitting around feeling sorry for us,” he said.
Practices, so far, have been spirited and focused, according to the coach, with the understanding the defense must look forward to what’s next.
“It’s a next-man-up mentality and we all have to be better,” Beamer said. “And the best way we can honor and play well for Mo and Jordan is to go play well this week.”
There are no guarantees. even with a healthy defense, that South Carolina would match up with the Bulldogs. The Gamecocks are just 1-9 in their last 10 games against a ranked opponent. They’ve won just once in six all-time meetings against No. 1.
Beamer knows things will be difficult with Kaba and Strachan out. There’s a belief among the players the improvements they made in spring and summer will eventually show up on game day.
“We’ve got to play smart and efficient football,” Beamer said. “That’s the thing we haven’t done the first two weeks.”
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