South Carolina defense poised for Saturday's season-opener against N.C. State

South Carolina defense poised for Saturday's season-opener against N.C. State

By Josh Hyber/Photo by Jenny Dilworth

Columbia, S.C. — Iron is sharper than iron, the saying goes, according to South Carolina safety D.J. Smith.

That’s how the senior from Marietta, Ga., described the Gamecocks receiving corps heading into the 2017 season, which kicks off this coming Saturday with a 3 p.m. matchup against NC State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

“Playing against them is going to make us better,” said Smith, the Gamecocks leader in tackles last season.

South Carolina LB/Buck Bryson Allen-Williams echoed Smith’s statement while also adding the other elements of the team’s offense. 

“You’re not going to see too many teams with three tight ends who can all make plays vertically down the field, four to six receivers who can go get the ball at any time and three to four running backs who can make one cut and get to the end zone,” he said.

“There aren’t many teams out there with that much depth and that much skill on the offensive side.”

One of those may be the Wolfpack, a team that posted over 5,400 yards of offense last season and returns quarterback Ryan Finley (3,055 yards, 18 touchdowns).

Several Gamecocks noted on Saturday the Wolfpack’s ability to stretch the field, particularly in the run game, outside the tackles.   

“They’ve got a lot of athletes and they do a lot of shifting,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be dialed in.”

Though NC State lost top runner Matthew Dayes, the team does return Reggie Gallaspy II and Jaylan Samuels, who several Gamecocks pointed to as a player to key in on.

“They have a lot of guys with a lot of speed at running back,” Allen-Williams said.

Added the senior, “We’ve just got to come to play. As long as we do our jobs, secure the perimeter, we should go out and have a good game.”

BAW ready for major production, likes LB depth

Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams spoke about how he’ll be utilized on the defense this season.

The senior linebacker has worked at both outside linebacker positions (BUCK and SAM) throughout camp, and will especially move around on third downs.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been one of those guys, I want to help the team wherever I’m at,” Allen-Williams said. “I feel like my skill set this year kind of widened. I’m able to do a little bit more things. (Coaches are) going to move me around to get me in the right spots to help the team make plays.”

The Ellenwood, Ga., product said it’s his speed and hip movement that will help him no matter where he is, and that he’s equally comfortable rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.

“I’ve done both in college and it’s time to just put it all together in my last year,” he said.

Fellow end D.J. Wonnum said Allen-Williams has done well at both spots and that his natural ability makes it easy for him to play well wherever he’s lined up.

“Coming off the edge is second nature for (Bryson),” Wonnum said.

Despite having just two seniors at linebacker, Allen-Williams said he’s comfortable with the unit’s depth.

“We have guys who are going to be able to step on the field and play,” the senior said. “We know we only have three guys with a lot of experience. After that, a lot of guys don’t have the experience, but I feel as far as ability and getting on the field, that’s where the depth is.

“We do have guys with ability.”

Charleston lands scholarship, finds home at safety

Video went viral on Tuesday of South Carolina redshirt sophomore Jay Charleston receiving a scholarship offer from Gamecocks’ head coach Will Muschamp.

“Javon Charleston, are you going to class Thursday?” Muschamp asked him. After Charleston responded, “Yes, sir,” the coach broke the news.

“South Carolina is now paying for your school,” Muschamp said before South Carolina players swarmed him with hugs and congratulations.

Charleston spoke about the moment on Saturday, saying he had no idea the moment would come.

“I did see my Dad walk on the field towards the end (of practice), so I was trying to figure out why,” he said. “I was trying to signal over to him, no (don’t come on the field) … But it was really cool.”

Safety D.J. Smith, Charleston’s roommate, said the two had just talked about price ranges for apartments.

“Now he doesn’t have to worry,” Smith said.

After switching back and forth between receiver and defensive back, Charleston will play mostly safety from here on out. He’s worked with both the first and second teams throughout camp.

“My strength is my ball skills,” Charleston said. “I feel like I’m rangey. I can definitely get from point A to point B. And I’ve picked up on my tackling. I feel like I’m a sure tackler. I feel like I’m going to be someone out there who’s going to be a playmaker.”

Freshman DL Sterling impresses

When asked who replaces second-team All-SEC selection Darius English — who had nine sacks last season and was top five in the conference in sacks and top 10 in tackles for loss — Allen-Williams didn’t hesitate to say freshman Aaron Sterling.

“He’s been a guy who has come along,” Allen-Williams said.

The three-star recruit out of Tucker, Ga., was also praised by D.J. Wonnum.

“He’s young, but he’s got the veteran mindset as well,” Wonnum said. “He’ll be able to contribute early.”

Wonnum, Brunson become defensive leaders

Allen-Williams also pointed to Wonnum — who said Saturday he’s matured and got stronger this offseason — as someone who will picked up his production with the loss of English.

“From being a freshman last season, he’s really maturing into his body,” Allen-Williams said. “I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do Saturday.”

Wonnum, who sacked quarterback Jake Bentley three times in the team’s first preseason scrimmage, agreed.

“I’ve just got to continue working, continue working on my pass rush,” Wonnum said. “I feel like I can fill those shoes.”

Allen-Williams also said linebacker T.J. Brunson has stepped into a leadership role. The sophomore will set calls, make checks and be the quarterback of the defense this fall.

“Definitely a field general,” Allen-Williams said. “You just see him walking around, he’s in his playbook, in his note pad, just making sure he’s becoming the Mike … You’ve really got to take time outside the meeting room to understand the defense, and he’s doing a great job with that. You see him watching film all the time.”

Kicker, punter competitions still ongoing

South Carolina Special Teams Coordinator Coleman Hutzler said walk-on Parker White, a Mount Pleasant product, and Alex Woznick are neck-and-neck in the clash to be the Gamecocks starting kicker.

“I think it’s great (to have the competition),” Hutzler said. “I think it brings out the best in the both of them.” 

What’s the coach looking for?

“Splitting the uprights and making kicks,” Hutzler said. “ … We want a guy to really go out and have that one-shot mentality and make his kicks”

The competition between Joseph Charlton and Michael Almond for the team’s starting punter job also continues.

“They both had a good fall camp and have gone shot for shot in our scrimmage stuff and in practice,” Hutzler said.

The team will have new players at long snapper and holder. Redshirt junior Ben Asbury will be the team’s long snapper while redshirt junior Danny Gordon and Almond will split duties at holder.