April L. Brown, Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. — One starter returns, while another's status is in doubt.
It's been that kind of season for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier as injuries and personnel shifts have struck the 15th-ranked Gamecocks.
Spurrier said quarterback Connor Shaw was cleared to return to practice after suffering a concussion last week and is likely to play against Florida on Saturday. Safety DeVonte Holloman, who also had a concussion in the 44-28 loss at Arkansas, has not yet been cleared by doctors and is questionable for Saturday's game.
Then again, it's been like that all year. Star linebacker Antonio Allen was out of last week's game with neck spasms. Cornerback C.C. Whitlock has missed time with a concussion. Safety D.J. Swearinger will miss most of practice this week with a foot injury.
On offense, lineman Kyle Nunn has been out since September with back problems, receiver Bruce Ellington was slowed by a hamstring and, perhaps the most significant loss of all, star tailback Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury at Mississippi State last month.
"Well, it's a little unusual," Spurrier said Tuesday.
Still, Spurrier said the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) remain in reach of several milestones when they close the SEC season with the Gators.
A victory would give South Carolina six SEC wins, something it's never accomplished since joining the league 19 years ago. It would also mark back-to-back wins over the Gators for the first time since World War II. And it would keep the Gamecocks in contention for the SEC Eastern Division and a second-straight trip to the league title game.
"When you look at the way our team has played this year, you have to say, 'Hey those guys are 7-2 and have a chance to achieve something this year,' " Spurrier said. "We are not here moping that we are 7-2. We have to play one of our best games and have some fire and emotion."
The injuries and changes on offense have had the most effect on the team the Gamecocks were projected to be when the year began. South Carolina looked loaded with an experienced offensive line and a trio of skill players in quarterback Stephen Garcia, receiver Alshon Jeffery and Lattimore who were major reasons the Gamecocks won the division last year.
But Garcia, the fifth-year senior who'd thrown for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns a season ago, rarely flashed a similar form this season and was benched in favor of sophomore Shaw following a 16-13 home loss to Auburn. Garcia was dismissed for good in October for failing a substance-abuse test.
With little experience at quarterback, Spurrier figured he'd keep handing off to Lattimore and relying on his highly-rated defense to control games. That strategy ended when a Mississippi State defender rolled up on Lattimore's left leg, damaging ligaments and cartilage in the knee.
Jeffery caught 88 passes for 1,517 yards — both school records — in 2010 and was on Sports Illustrated's cover this summer, poised for an even bigger junior year. Jeffery, though, has barely made a ripple on offense with 36 catches and 487 yards.
The Gamecocks have averaged fewer than 19 points a game the past three contests.
Linebacker Shaq Wilson said it would be easy to make excuses about injuries.
"That's just football," he said. "You just have to play. One man goes down, next man's up and has to do a job."
It looked like South Carolina might need the next quarterback up after a hard hit Shaw took that sent him to the sidelines late in the game against Arkansas. Spurrier said he'd continue rolling backup Dylan Thompson into practice drills in case of any setbacks, but expected Shaw to be ready for the crucial game.
Expect to see Ellington more often in a wildcat setup at times, too.
"I don't think Steve will change a whole lot of what he does whether Dylan Thompson is the quarterback. They do some of the wildcat stuff with (Bruce) Ellington in the game," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "So we'll have to adjust as we move there as far as who the quarterback will be."
Spurrier's not letting his players fret about the situation, instead focusing on all the Gamecocks can accomplish.
"We've won a bunch of games, so we've just got to look at where we are and try to get ready to play our best this week with the players we have," Spurrier said. "And that's what we're going to try and do."
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