SEC: Nathan Pepper

Gamecocks walking wounded on defense

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
11:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


It’s the last thing South Carolina’s defense needed to happen.

The Gamecocks have played three games, with No. 4-ranked Ole Miss coming to town Thursday, and they’re already scrambling to keep guys on the field because of injuries.

Six starters or backups are nursing injuries on defense, which not only has a short week to get ready, but is facing its greatest challenge yet in a Jevan Snead-led Ole Miss offense that's fresh and leading the SEC in scoring.

“We don’t have a defensive unit right now. We have a bunch of bodies and a bunch of guys trying hard,” said Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense. “We’re young in some spots. We’re beat up in other spots. We’re thin in some spots. And right now, there’s nothing you can look at out there except for effort and heart and say we can hang our hat on that.”

It’s questionable at this point whether the Gamecocks will get defensive tackle Nathan Pepper back for the Ole Miss game. He and backup tackle Kenny Davis both have high ankle sprains. Pepper was already dealing with knee issues and missed the Florida Atlantic game.

Strong safety Darian Stewart and end Cliff Matthews both played with neck stingers in the Florida Atlantic game, while All-SEC outside linebacker Eric Norwood was limited in the second half after suffering a shoulder contusion. The Gamecocks were already missing middle linebacker Rodney Paulk, who’s out for the season with a torn ACL.

Johnson didn’t want to take any chances with Norwood, which is the reason he played sparingly in the second half. He’s going to play against Ole Miss, but the problem is that the Gamecocks are right on that threshold of being in major trouble if anybody else goes down in the front seven.

“It’s frustrating because we have to cut back to almost vanilla because there are so many young players out there and so many kids out there that haven’t practiced,” Johnson said. “We’re not good enough physically to overcome that right now. Hopefully, we’ll get some of those guys back and go from there.”

The Gamecocks will get junior tackle Ladi Ajiboye back from a three-game suspension, and that will help.

The other area where all these injuries come into play is special teams. The Gamecocks started the season with younger players on kickoff coverage, and that unit suffered. They’ve since added several starters to the coverage teams, but that really gets dicey when so many guys on defense are already banged up.

Key injuries for several teams

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Several SEC teams were hit with key injuries over the weekend, including Georgia losing another starter for the season.

Defensive end Rod Battle tore his ACL in the 41-37 win over South Carolina and will miss the rest of the season. The Bulldogs lost offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant for the season in the first game.

LSU running back Richard Murphy injured his right knee against Vanderbilt and will undergo an MRI this week to determine the extent of the injury. There's a fear that he might have torn ligaments.

Auburn tight end Tommy Trott hurt his left knee late in the first half against Mississippi State, and his status for this weekend is unclear.

Alabama redshirt freshman defensive end Damion Square has a knee injury that coach Nick Saban said would likely require surgery. Star receiver Julio Jones bruised his kneecap on the opening drive, and running back Roy Upchurch sprained an ankle. Neither player returned to the game.

South Carolina defensive tackle Nathan Pepper could miss two to three weeks after spraining his ankle against Georgia. The Gamecocks were already without middle linebacker Rodney Paulk, who tore his ACL in the opener, and defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye, who's suspended for the first three games.

If Pepper doesn't play this week against Florida Atlantic, either Melvin Ingram or Kenny Davis would replace him.

Vanderbilt was really hit hard by injuries in its 23-9 loss to LSU. Starting offensive tackle James Williams broke his ankle and will likely miss the rest of the season. Starting safety Ryan Hamilton could also be out indefinitely after suffering an injury to his upper right chest. His arm was in a sling in the second half, and the Commodores will know more about his status after he undergoes further evaluation by doctors.

Other Vanderbilt players injured in the game and missing time were linebacker Patrick Benoist (shoulder) and nickel back Jamie Graham (ankle).

The top candidates to replace Williams at right tackle are redshirt freshman Caleb Welchans, junior Reilly Lauer and sophomore Kyle Fischer. Lauer and Fischer had been working primarily at guard this season.

Pepper out for the Gamecocks

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
8:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


ATHENS, Ga. -- South Carolina senior defensive tackle Nathan Pepper has a right ankle sprain and won't return to the game, it was just announced in the press box.

The Gamecocks have been playing Cliff Matthews inside a lot and walking Eric Norwood up at end.

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