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September 24, 2012South Carolina has it. Joker Phillips wants it. Matt Smith is up against it.
The Gamecocks' defensive front is one of the most fearsome in college football. Bookend defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are All-Southeastern Conference players and one of the biggest challenges Smith and the offensive line will face this year.
"Watching film on South Carolina, they're definitely the best we've played this season and very well could be the entire season," Smith said. "They're very good defensively."
That's nothing new for South Carolina. Phillips first noticed it when he was an assistant coach for the Gamecocks in 2002. The roster had a surplus of defensive linemen, a rarity in college football. Phillips left for Kentucky the next year, and has maintained his recruiting ties in the state ever since.
Kentucky boasts seven players from South Carolina on its roster, including three defensive starters: defensive tackle Donte Rumph, cornerback Cartier Rice, linebacker Taylor Wyndham.
"There are so many defensive players there," Phillips said.
None of the Wildcats' defenders are as acclaimed as defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, though. The sophomore was the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2011 and is tied for 13th nationally with 4.5 sacks. He also has seven tackles for loss.
On the other side is senior Devin Taylor, who has 15.5 sacks in his career and is in his third year as a starter. Clowney is listed at 6-6 and Taylor at 6-8, but both have tremendous speed rush ability.
"I think one of the things the NCAA should do is issue every team two of those type of guys to make everything even," Phillips said with a laugh. "We'd like to have Clowney and Taylor. It's what they should issue everybody."
With players like Clowney and Taylor, the Gamecocks' defense doesn't have to bother with exotic blitz packages or multiple defensive fronts. South Carolina ranks in the top 20 nationally in total defense and is only giving up 9.8 points per game, fifth best in the country. They're eighth in the country in rushing defense, but also fifth in sacks.
Clowney is where it all starts, though. Phillips said if he were an NFL general manager, he would take Clowney with the first overall draft pick this year. That would be his preference, in fact. He'd like to see the pass rushing terror out of the SEC as soon as possible.
"That's one of the guys that I was saying we have to manage the 'Oh, shoots,'" Phillips said. "He's coming at you and we've screwed up, 'What do I do with the ball? Oh, shoot! Here he comes.'"
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. He sat out Saturday's 38-0 loss to Florida after re-aggravating an AC injury in his right (throwing) shoulder against Western Kentucky.
Smith could have played against Florida and traveled to Gainesville after practicing on Thursday, but the trainers advised the coaches he would have been risking a more severe injury. Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders decided to sit him and give him more time to heal.
"He was a lot further along on Sunday than he was last Sunday," Phillips said. "A lot of that has to do with us not playing him this week. We would have had some risk in playing him, so we decided not to."
In his place, senior quarterback Morgan Newton threw three interceptions before being benched in favor of true freshman Jalen Whitlow. Going forward, Whitlow will see more snaps as the second team quarterback. Whitlow has taken snaps as the No. 2 quarterback for the last three weeks, but the coaches were uncomfortable using a true freshman quarterback at Florida.
If Smith is unable to play, Whitlow would probably get the start, Phillips said. Part of Newton's struggles came because Florida's defensive line was able to generate a consistent push against the Wildcats' offensive line, Matt Smith said.
"We didn't give up sacks, which made us look likes heroes out there, but we weren't," he said. "We were getting pressured, he was getting hit a couple of times, just things that shouldn't have been happening.
One thing likely won't change. Phillips said on Monday that freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, who has not played this year, is still expected to redshirt despite a report on Sunday that indicated Towles and his father were hoping for Patrick to play this year.
"I'm comfortable with where we're at, because I think we'll get Max back," Phillips said. "We decided to allow Jalen to be our third (before the season). We think Pat Towles will be a really good quarterback in time. We just think this is the best thing for him and for our program at this point."
Defensive tackle Mister Cobble, who missed the Florida game after being admitted to the hospital on Friday with an infection, is doubtful for South Carolina. Junior defensive tackle Tristian Johnson, who started in his place at Florida, was listed atop the depth chart at defensive tackle this week. Cobble is no longer in the hospital.
Senior tight end Gabe Correll remains doubtful with a hip flexor. Redshirt freshman linebacker Josh Forrest is also doubtful with a hip flexor. Junior tight end Jordan Aumiller is doubtful with an unspecified injury.
Senior tailback CoShik Williams, who missed the Florida game, is questionable with a hip strain. Junior offensive lineman Kevin Mitchell is day-to-day. Sophomore safety Ashely Lowery and senior cornerback Cartier Rice are also day-to-day. Lowery is suffering from concussion-like symptoms after a big hit in the second quarter against Florida. Rice did not play against Florida with a thigh bruise.
Senior offensive tackle Trevino Woods also has an ankle injury.