COLUMBIA - Another week, another pivotal player in South Carolina's lineup has been sidelined due to injury.
Soon after last Saturday's 17-16 win over Louisiana Tech, Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said starting linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams chose to have surgery on his injured shoulder and will miss the rest of the year. It was just a week earlier, Muschamp had to make a similarly sobering announcement about dynamic South Carolina playmaker Deebo Samuel who had to have surgery a fractured bone in his left leg in a loss to Kentucky.
"It's frustrating," Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. "And it's frustrating because of the work they put in to get better and help us."
That was certainly apparent in in their play this season.
Samuel had scored six of South Carolina's 11 touchdowns in its first three games before he got hurt in the third quarter against Kentucky. Samuel is still tied for the SEC lead with six touchdowns, even though his next one won't come for a while. He had surgery on Sept. 18 and could miss the rest of the season, although he and his mother have said on social media they expected to return before season's end.
Allen-Williams, a 6-foot, 230-pound junior, also was hurt against Kentucky and did not respond well after last Tuesday's practice, Muschamp said. Allen-Williams held out until game-time before deciding best course of action was surgery. Allen-Williams had two sacks and recovered a fumble in South Carolina's opening win over North Carolina State. Allen-Williams had an interception a week later to help the Gamecocks win at Missouri.
Allen-Williams has said he will use a redshirt season and return to the Gamecocks next fall.
The Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) will continue to look fill holes created by injuries when they head to Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday night.
South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst said the hurdles players face dealing with injuries to teammate are mostly mental. Once the game starts, Hurst said, players react and perform as they always have.
"This can wear you down mentally," tight end Hayden Hurst said. "But we've got to go on. There's no other choice."
South Carolina rotated several players into Samuel's offensive roles, some with more success than others. Freshman OrTre Smith had a touchdown catch against Kentucky after Samuel's injury and added one against Louisiana Tech last week in the Gamecocks 17-16 win.
Sophomore Daniel Fennell came in for Allen-Williams last week and notched his first career sack among three tackles.
"It's going to take a collective effort" filling in for both leaders, Muschamp said.
Samuel and Allen-Williams both showed last week they don't plan to shrink away from the Gamecocks while they recover. Samuel was on a golf cart leading the Gamecock Walk into the stadium before the Louisiana Tech game. Allen-Williams, Muschamp said, gathered defenders around him on the sidelines to urge them on. He talked with Fennell and others about how to play certain schemes.
"He was involved," Muschamp said.
That's no surprise to senior linebacker Skai Moore, who's played alongside and talked with Allen-Williams almost daily the past few seasons. Allen-Williams is in a good frame of mind about his surgery Wednesday, Moore said. "He knows how to go through it and he'll come out of it fine," Moore said.
Allen-Williams is a loud, talkative player who has rallied the Gamecocks together in tough situations, according to fellow linebacker T.J. Brunson. Who takes over that role? "Me," said Brunson, a 6-1, 230-pounder from Columbia.
Muschamp said his team had a strong start to practice this week and will be ready to complete.
"It's next man up," he said. "It's someone's opportunity."