South Carolina Football: Defensive back remains suspended; Where do the Gamecocks turn on Saturday?

South Carolina football's DQ Smith took an interception back for a touchdown against Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl last season. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football's DQ Smith took an interception back for a touchdown against Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl last season. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports /

Targeting is one of the most hotly-contested penalties in all of college football. There was a version of targeting that has always existed to curb dangerous “launching” plays, but the last decade has seen the rule expand to any helmet-to-helmet hits or any lowering of the head by defensive players. The debate has reached South Carolina football over the last week.

While former safety DJ Swearinger is the Gamecock player most associated with the targeting flag, another USC safety currently is dealing with the repercussions of the penalty.

South Carolina football defensive back DQ Smith was ejected for targeting in Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M when the safety/nickel ducked his head and hit the A&M receiver in the midsection.

Most fans associate targeting with helmet-to-helmet hits as that is the most commonly flagged targeting infraction. However, because of the wording of the rule, any hit that involves a player “leading with the crown of the helmet” can be interpreted as targeting. Because Smith lowered his head, the call was correct by the letter of the law, even if it felt strange.

As the targeting call came in the 2nd half, in addition to Smith’s ejection, he was also subject to a one-half suspension in the team’s next game, this Saturday’s Cock Fight with the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State.

South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer announced after the game that the team would appeal Smith’s suspension. The appeal didn’t take long to be heard, but Beamer revealed on Tuesday that there would be no change in DQ Smith’s status this weekend: the 2022 Freshman All-American will not play in the first half against Jacksonville State.

So, what can the Gamecocks do to fill the void left by #1’s absence?

DQ Smith has split the majority of his time on the field between free safety and nickel. Over the past few weeks, most of those snaps have come at safety. Nick Emmanwori has played the other safety, and freshman Jalon Kilgore has played nickel.

The Gamecocks have a few options that could work, especially against an opponent in Jacksonville State that has less overall talent than USC.

They could put Keenan Nelson, Jr. at safety. After Smith’s ejection, Nelson (who started the year at nickel before poor play and an injury moved him to safety), filled in and looked comfortable. It would be reasonable to think that against JSU, defensive coordinator Clayton White and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray might opt not to disturb any other players’ jobs and just slot Nelson back in there.

Kilgore could also move back to safety. One of the top true freshmen in the country this season, Kilgore was really good at safety before being moved to nickel. His long-term future in the South Carolina football program is probably at safety, but the best option for the team this season seems to be to leave him inside. With the Gamecocks needing every win left on the schedule, doing what is best for right now seems ideal.

If Kilgore does move back to safety, however, several players could be in line to get more snaps at nickel. David Spaulding has battled injuries throughout his career, but he has played most of his snaps at nickel, and he has had some good moments. KaJuan Banks hasn’t played much but has looked pretty good when he’s been in the game. Other young DBs like Judge Collier, Vicari Swain, and Emory Floyd have gotten some run, as well, and perhaps Saturday could be a chance for them.

It is worth noting that starting cornerback O’Donnell Fortune was suspended for the first half of last week’s game against the Aggies for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy. With him out for the first 30 minutes of the game, Judge Collier played pretty well on the outside.

It is expected that DQ Smith will slot back into his usual spot in the second half on Saturday and will be back to a full workload for next week’s game against Vanderbilt.

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