As tough as it is to tell Superman that he can't fly, 18th-ranked South Carolina may have to do exactly that.
Defensive end Melvin Ingram, a back-to-back winner of the SEC Defensive Player of the Week award and already posting All-American numbers, is unlikely to play on Saturday when Kentucky (2-3, 0-2 SEC) visits Williams-Brice Stadium. While defensive head Ellis Johnson didn't definitely rule Ingram out of the game, he seemed to be saying that sitting Ingram as a precaution would be the right move.
"It's not a real serious thing, but it's something you have to take seriously," Johnson said, alluding to Ingram's sprained right foot. "It looks a lot better than they thought it would. I just don't know if he'll have a shot this Saturday. He hasn't practiced much. But it's more optimistic than it was."
Ingram was in a walking boot and on crutches on Tuesday, but was down to one crutch on Wednesday and walking rather quickly into the practice field. He said on Tuesday that he was "day-to-day" and Johnson backed that up on Thursday.
While it's galling to have to sit a player playing so well (Ingram is third on the team with 26 tackles, he leads the SEC with 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks and has two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and three touchdowns on the season), it seems to be the best move at the best time. The Wildcats have the worst offense in the league (255.6 yards per game) and will be playing a defense that has been dominant in each of the past two weeks.
In short, Ingram shouldn't be needed, and he can be fully healthy by the time the Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1) head to Mississippi State next week. While Johnson certainly wasn't discounting Kentucky, it's probably the best news possible under the circumstances - if Ingram can't play, at least it's against a team that has been worse offensively than USC.
"Kentucky is very capable of moving the football on anybody," Johnson cautioned. "They moved it up the field on Florida a couple of times. When they do get stopped, they either shoot themselves in the foot or make another mistake here or there, but they got good players. They're a very capable football team."
Kentucky was only able to put up 10 points and 299 yards against the Gators, while Florida scored 31 first-half points in what became a 48-10 whipping. The Wildcats mustered a scant 155 yards and seven points last week against LSU, which has one of the best defenses in the country.
USC has given up 77 and 358 yards, respectively, and 19 combined points to its last two opponents. The Gamecocks are hoping that streak continues against Kentucky, with or without Ingram.
If Ingram sits, Chaz Sutton or Jadeveon Clowney will start in his absence. Clowney, held to a quiet two tackles last week, missed two days of practice this week and despite the hype, is still a freshman, which may push Sutton, a redshirt sophomore, into the role.
"(Clowney) had to run home on an issue, then he was held out of one practice because he had to go to an academic meeting," Johnson said. "He hasn't had as much practice. For a young freshman, you get concerned about him being clean on the game plan."
Other than Ingram, USC remains healthy on defense. Brison Williams continues to improve and will again back up DeVonte Holloman at strong safety, and the cornerback positions have solidified despite Akeem Auguste still being in limbo.
Auguste, battling a foot arch strain, has only played in one game (Georgia). A decision may be made in the next two weeks about whether or not the injury will heal enough to get him on the field, or if it's more advisable for him to redshirt.
"It's getting to that point, but no decision has been made," Johnson said. "I think we're kind of looking at the open date (Oct. 22)."
Otherwise, Johnson simply wants his defense to keep improving. While playing an absolutely perfect game will probably never happen, Johnson sees no reason why the Gamecocks can't be very close to it.
"I'm very proud of the way we've played, effort-wise," Johnson said. "My biggest concern is we've had some mental mistakes and technique errors, sometimes at some point in the game, where we can cut somebody off and we're just not pulling that string. That's the step I'd like to see us take this week, is to finally finish something."
NOTES:Kenny Miles has a torn tendon in his wrist and is unlikely to play. Kyle Nunn (back) is also doubtful, although it could be a game-time decision. Rokevious Watkins is set to start in his place at left tackle, with Cody Gibson taking over for Watkins at right tackle. Jason Barnes, out the past two weeks with a strained hamstring, was in a regular practice jersey on Thursday and could play. As expected, quarterback Stephen Garcia did not practice on Thursday as he attended his grandfather's funeral. He is expected back in Columbia tonight or early on Friday.