College Sports

USC shifts defensive players

South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews pressures S.C. State quarterback Malcolm Long.
South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews pressures S.C. State quarterback Malcolm Long.

COLUMBIA -- Casper Brinkley's played so well at weakside linebacker this year that South Carolina's coaches rewarded him Sunday.

They moved him back to defensive end, the position he played all of last season.

"I'm really not a defensive end but I can play it," Brinkley shrugged, when asked if he minded being switched from his natural, favorite and probable future position. "I told him, 'Coach, whatever the team needs. If the team needs me at end, I'm there.'"

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and assistant head coach/secondary coach Ron Cooper pulled the trigger on the switch after the No. 12 Gamecocks' 38-3 win over S.C. State. After watching tackle Nathan Pepper go down with a season-ending knee injury and seeing freshman Cliff Matthews collect four tackles, pressuring the quarterback non-stop, they shook things up a bit.

Matthews slid into Brinkley's spot, giving him a presence in the middle of the field where he can pass-rush all game, instead of certain downs. Brinkley moved back ahead of freshman Travian Robertson at end.

It'll be a new-look defense USC takes into a showdown at No. 2 LSU on Saturday, but hopefully one that keeps the same result.

"Now, our defense has played well keeping guys out of the end zone, that's for sure," coach Steve Spurrier said after interrupting a laundry list of complaints about offense and special teams. "Obviously, we need to play a whole bunch better to stay even in the Top 25."

USC has not given up a touchdown in its last 10 quarters, a stellar stretch but one that was somewhat expected from a veteran defense. The unit took a hard shot last week with the loss of Pepper and will probably also be without starting safety Brandon Isaac, who is recovering from a separated shoulder.

But they still think they can hold the Tigers' offense at bay. Despite switching back to end, Brinkley said he was confident the defense could keep it up against an offense averaging 45.7 points per game.

"He just said, 'We're going to put you at defensive end this week,'" Brinkley said. "'Nathan Pepper got hurt and we feel like if you go down there, you're going to be a playmaker because your motor never stops.' That kind of made me feel good for him to say that."

The test is a stiff one but the Gamecocks are enjoying their notoriety. Some admitted they didn't expect to be 3-0 and as high in the rankings as they are, but also realized LSU is a nasty customer to get past.

USC has been surprisingly good on the road under Spurrier, 7-3 and winners of five of its last six. Spurrier has also beaten LSU 11 out of 12 times, including five of six at Tiger Stadium.

But that was then, this is now. It's going to take a lot more than past history to clinch the only USC win over an opponent ranked second or higher.

"I don't need to sit here and tell you how good of a team they are," Spurrier said. "Everybody has said that."

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