COLUMBIA -- South Carolina has enough trouble winning, considering the offense has yet to find itself heading into Game 5.
Now the Gamecocks have to do it without the biggest piece of their defense.
Steve Spurrier announced after practice Monday that middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley will miss the rest of the season after injuring his right knee against LSU. Brinkley, the Gamecocks' leading tackler from a year ago and touted as a probable first-round NFL Draft pick, will apply for a medical redshirt and hopefully return in 2008.
But for this year, he's done.
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"Yeah, Jasper ended up tearing a ligament in his knee," Spurrier said. "I think he's scheduled for surgery Wednesday."
Spurrier said Sunday that Brinkley had a knee contusion and would probably be held out of practice this week. The senior was re-diagnosed Monday and was found to have a ligament tear.
Brinkley could be up and around in as little as three months and should be fully recovered for next year, if he chooses to pursue that option. The NFL could draft Brinkley in April, despite the red cross on his report, although twin brother Casper Brinkley said his brother would return.
Jasper Brinkley might not have a choice. The NCAA rule states a player may get a redshirt if he has participated in 30 percent (three games) or less of the schedule, and Brinkley might be a little above that limit.
But Spurrier was sure that wouldn't be an issue.
"They've been pretty forgiving and lenient and helpful to student-athletes in the last few years," Spurrier said. "So it should not be a problem."
"Now he knows that next year, he might be the best linebacker coming out," Casper said. "He's definitely coming back."
Brinkley hurt his knee on the second defensive play against LSU and sat out most of the first half. He returned and played sparingly, but it was evident he didn't have his usual explosiveness.
Playing through a high ankle sprain suffered in preseason practice, Brinkley was tied for third on the team with 21 tackles. He leads the Gamecocks with two interceptions, one that clinched a 16-12 upset of Georgia two weeks ago.
He led USC with 107 stops a year ago and was known as the defense's driving force, plugging every hole in the middle of the field. Coming into this year, Brinkley was anchored at middle linebacker with Casper moving from defensive end, where he played in 2006, back to his natural outside linebacker.
Now the plan must change. Casper will stay at end, where he returned last week. Junior Marvin Sapp will slide into Jasper's spot, with true freshman Melvin Ingram backing him up.
Sapp was second on the team with 53 tackles in 2006.
"Everyone knows how good a player he is and yes, it's a blow to the team not only for the football, but that he's not playing," said Sapp, a relative of Oakland Raiders linebacker Warren Sapp. "I played inside last year and my coaches expect me to play like I've been playing. I'm going to play to the best of my ability."
WANT TO GO?
MISSISSIPPI STATE (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at NO. 16 SOUTH CAROLINA (3-1, 1-1)
• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
• TV: CBS (cable channel 5 in Rock Hill)
• Tickets: 1-800-4SC-FANS