College Sports

Safety Isaac rises in Gamecocks' defense

COLUMBIA -- Sitting on the bench all of 2006, his ailing left shoulder stubbornly refusing to heal, Brandon Isaac knew he could help South Carolina's secondary. All he needed was a chance.

It took a lot longer than he expected, but he finally got it -- and delivered.

Isaac, a redshirt senior, started the Gamecocks' season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette last week and the Ragin' Cajuns immediately set up a third-and-2 deep in their own territory. Isaac lined up and called the blitz, charging receiver Jason Chery as he attempted to cut the corner.

That still-tender shoulder rammed into Chery for no gain, forcing a punt. If it hurt Isaac, he wasn't saying.

Being on the field was medicine enough.

"No, that wasn't ... yeah, it was, because I come from a junior college," Isaac backtracked after asked if ULL was his best game. "I've been waiting a while for that one."

Isaac finished with six tackles, one for loss, and two passes broken-up. He also had an interception ruled an incomplete pass and helped stop one of the Cajuns' red-zone possessions.

Not a bad first outing, especially after sitting out a whole season.

The next step is playing as well as he did last week on Saturday, when the Gamecocks travel to No. 11 Georgia.

"We got to work harder stopping the run because we got Georgia and they're a running team," Isaac said. "Hopefully things will work out for us."

Isaac's performance, along with the usual dynamics of Casper and Jasper Brinkley, spotlighted a performance against ULL that began fine but skidded late. After forcing punts on the Cajuns' first two drives, Jasper Brinkley sat out with a sprained ankle and the Gamecocks began collapsing.

ULL knew USC hadn't figured out how to stop the run or the option attack, and began slicing apart the Gamecocks' defense. The Cajuns ended up with 15 rushing plays of 5 or more yards, led by quarterback Michael Desormeaux, who rushed 21 times for 116 yards.

Isaac, as part of the last line of defense, helped keep ULL out of the end zone, despite two possessions inside the 5. Those proved to be the difference in a 28-14 win.

But despite the celebration afterward, there was that nagging feeling -- if ULL could do it, what could Georgia, a known powerhouse running team, do?

"As you know, we got to improve a little bit defensively, stopping the run," Isaac said. "But we did win the game so that worked out."

Isaac will switch from strong safety to free safety this week, as the Gamecocks attempt to find a plug for a hole in their secondary. Projected starter Emanuel Cook is recovering from appendicitis, which pushed Carlos Thomas back into a starting role alongside Darian Stewart, Captain Munnerlyn and Isaac.

The Bulldogs, who piled up 376 yards (142 rushing) last week in a 35-14 win over Oklahoma State, present several problems. They might not be a threat to run the option like ULL, but Georgia is just as capable of hammering USC's defensive line.

"We're the problem, not the opposing team," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "(Against ULL), we missed tackles, we over-pursued and put poor angles on them. When you give up long drives, you can't beat good football teams that way."

And Georgia is a good-enough team without taking into consideration the other fact. Since 1997, the winner of the USC-Georgia game has always gone on to have the better season.

Isaac said he wasn't worrying about it and was confident the defense would step up in Athens Saturday. Although the performance against ULL wasn't spectacular, it was good enough to stop the Cajuns when it counted.

"I think that was good momentum because we know now that we can stop people when our backs are against the wall and we did that," Isaac said.

"We really had to focus on how they run the ball, but we won the game, so that's all that matters at the end of the day."