College Sports

Gamecocks' special teams get face lift

South Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn's weekly beatings have led coach Steve Spurrier to beef up his special teams unit.
South Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn's weekly beatings have led coach Steve Spurrier to beef up his special teams unit.

COLUMBIA -- Captain Munnerlyn never planned to be a heavyweight boxer. At five-foot-9 and 180 pounds, he didn't have much choice.

That hasn't stopped him from feeling like one after two weeks as South Carolina's primary kick returner.

The sophomore has turned all shades of black and blue during the No. 17 Gamecocks' first two games, hammered and bullied on the majority of his attempted kick returns. Shoddy blocking has left Munnerlyn an open target as he waits to cradle the ball and while he's mostly held on to it, it doesn't do much good to have a starting cornerback getting crushed by a freight train four or five times per game.

After getting beaten up against No. 11 Georgia last week, Munnerlyn fainted after he came off the field. He quickly recovered but it sent a loud message to coach Steve Spurrier and his assistants -- this has got to stop.

"That's where a bunch of changes are going to be, right there, because we came very close to losing the game because as coaches we're not smart enough to put our best players on the field to cover punts," said a disgruntled Spurrier, previewing Saturday's home game against S.C. State. "They can't do it.

"So we're not going to be as dumb as we were last week. We were pretty stupid as coaches putting some guys out there who can't do it."

Spurrier said his top two tailbacks, Cory Boyd and Mike Davis, and his top two defenders, linebackers Casper and Jasper Brinkley, will line up on special teams this week to try and snap the Gamecocks out of their doldrums. He's hoping putting "our best players" on the field will put some life into the unit.

If not, all the joy gained from a 2-0 start and a lofty perch in the Top 25 might be short-lived.

"Mike Davis may be returning kickoffs some, covering punts," Spurrier said. "He and Cory Boyd, the Brinkleys, all those guys will play. They're busting their tails trying to win the game and it's not right for them to stand on the sideline and watch a bunch of backup guys who act like they don't care very much try to cover some kicks."

The switch naturally raised some concern about injuries -- kickoff and punt returns are becoming the most dangerous plays on the field because everybody's running full-speed. If Boyd, Davis or the Brinkleys come up lame, the rest of the season becomes a question mark, as well.

"I feel good," Boyd rebutted. "It actually gives us more opportunities to be better in certain spots in our kicking game."

So far, the kicking game has been fine, Ryan Succop winning another SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honor after booting three field goals against the Bulldogs. The rest of the special teams have been special in name only.

In the season-opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette, the Gamecocks couldn't get any room to return, but it wasn't that bad. Munnerlyn and Kenny McKinley weren't hit that hard for the most part, although each took at least one vicious shot.

Against Georgia, it was magnified. Munnerlyn was turned into a punching bag and had a mental and physical error on the same play.

Trying to escape into the halftime locker room with a 10-3 lead, USC forced a Georgia punt with 1:16 to play. Munnerlyn, supposed to follow clock-bleeding protocol, should have never attempted to field a punt, allowing the Gamecocks to kneel on their next possession.

Instead, he camped under it, caught it and was drilled. Munnerlyn lost the ball and Georgia recovered, giving the Bulldogs a first-and-10 at the 19-yard-line.

The fumble was wiped because Georgia moved too early on the snap. Still, taking no chances, Spurrier yanked Munnerlyn and sent in McKinley, who streaked for the sideline as soon as the ball was kicked to put as much distance between himself and the pigskin as possible.

"Captain's down there trying to catch a punt with 30 seconds left in the half," Spurrier said. "We're still not real smart."

• NOTE: Spurrier announced that cornerback Carlos Thomas will sit out the first half Saturday after reviewing the game film at Georgia, when Thomas was whistled for two personal fouls. Spurrier said after the game "nobody in the stadium" saw what Thomas did but game film revealed Thomas had shoved one Bulldog and mouthed off to a referee to earn the two flags.

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (1-1, 1-0 MEAC) AT NO. 17 SOUTH CAROLINA (2-0, 1-0 SEC)

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia

• TV: PPV

• Tickets: Available at 1-800-4SC-FANS

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