Predictions for the South Carolina football team's two-deep on defense this fall

South Carolina football is 76 days from their season opener. What might the two-deep on defense look like this fall?
South Carolina football linebacker Debo Williams, safety Nick Emmanwori, and tackle TJ Sanders
South Carolina football linebacker Debo Williams, safety Nick Emmanwori, and tackle TJ Sanders / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina Football Two-Deep Predictions on Defense:

One of the best units on the team heading into the fall is the Gamecocks' group of safeties. There are three Freshman All-Americans from the past two seasons (Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith in 2022 and Jalon Kilgore in 2023), a couple of veteran transfers provide depth, and two freshmen are hopeful for an opportunity.

The safeties are good, but there were some struggles at times in 2023. Partially due to the team's complete lack of any semblance of a pass rush (the team had just 21 sacks, and 5.5 came on blitzes), longer-developing pass plays and deep shots were a struggle for the back end to defend. The scheme's requirement of man coverage from those safeties (often positioned at nickel) didn't help, either.

If used properly, a safety rotation of Emmanwori, Kilgore, Kilgore (yes, both of them), and Smith could be one of the best units in the SEC this fall.

STARTER, Nick Emmanwori

The inclusion of Nick Emmanwori as the starter at one of the safety spots is a no-brainer. Tabbed by several outlets as a top-10 safety prospect in next year's NFL Draft, he is a freak of an athlete and a good tackler whose coverage skills are improving.

Emmanwori has played nickel at times in his career, but he is at his best as a safety. That doesn't mean that defensive coordinator Clayton White won't move him around, though. The Columbia-area native will play in the box, will match up in coverage, and will play over the top.

If the last two years are any indication, Emmanwori will not come off the field this fall outside of injury. If the season goes as planned for him, an All-American honor is not outside the realm of possibility.

STARTER, Jalon Kilgore*

Jalon Kilgore was the third Freshman All-American to play safety for the South Carolina Gamecocks the last two seasons (joining Nick Emmanwori and DQ Smith in 2022). He played as a starter after week 1 in 2023 but played both safety and nickel.

*Including Kilgore as the starter at safety is a nod to his role as being one of the best two safeties on the roster. However, Kilgore has played a lot of nickel, too, and last year, the Gamecocks preferred to have him, Emmanwori, and Smith on the field together for almost every snap. Kilgore is the best nickel of the group, so he could be the starter at that position, instead.

Regardless of which spot he plays, Jalon Kilgore will start and will have a good year in the Gamecock secondary. If forced to pick, fans should expect Kilgore to start at nickel and DQ Smith to start at safety.


*There are only two starters at safety (listed here as Nick Emmanwori and Jalon Kilgore), but the Gamecocks essentially have three. DQ Smith is a good player who will start alongside Emmanwori if Kilgore plays nickel this fall. He has nickel experience, as well, having played the position pretty well in 2022 before struggling there in 2023. Safety is his best spot and should be where he plays.

Smith is a good tackler who will play up in the box some, and that will be true whether he is at safety or nickel. As another former high school quarterback on the Gamecock defense, Smith has a good football IQ.

As one of the defensive backs called upon the most to blitz out of the secondary, Smith only got home for a half sack and 1.5 tackles for loss in 2023. If he can convert on those opportunities at a higher clip this fall, he could be in for a big year.

BACKUP, Gerald Kilgore

Long-time backup King-Demenian Ford could continue to find himself on Gamecock depth charts this fall like he did last year, but new transfer Gerald Kilgore (the brother of fellow Gamecock safety Jalon Kilgore) seems more likely.

Kilgore, who is another Gamecock defensive back who played quarterback in high school, was a good player last season for Tennessee Tech. After making the transition to defense, he became a starter late in the year and performed well as a safety (and got some run at nickel) and was one of the top-graded safeties in the country according to PFF.

Players like David Spaulding, Peyton Williams, Gerald Kilgore, Buddy Mack, and freshman Kelvin Hunter likely will be the top names to compete with Ford for the fourth safety role.


David Spaulding moved to corner last season but still saw some snaps at safety and nickel. That could repeat in 2024 as he has made plays all over the defensive backfield during his career.

King-Demenian Ford and Buddy Mack (walk-on, Pittsburgh Panthers) could push their ways into the rotation.

Peyton Williams was a primary backup in 2022 when several players were injured, but he faced his own injuries in 2023. If healthy for 2024, perhaps he can carve out a depth role.

Freshman Kelvin Hunter has a bright future ahead of him in Columbia. The 4-star safety is a heavy hitter with solid athleticism. David Bucey, while not as highly touted as Hunter as a recruit, is an intriguing player, too.