The Gamecocks’ passing offense is ranked second in the Ohio Valley Conference, but it lost rising star receivers Markis Merrill and Dalton Screws and quarterback Max Shortell two weeks ago against Tennessee State.
They’ve had an open week to regroup, recharge and move some of the pieces around before opening a difficult five-week close Saturday at Tennessee Tech.
“It’s not dead,” Clark said Monday. “That’s kind of one of those ‘we’ll see as it goes’ (deals).
“Some other guys get their opportunity and get to step up. It’s been going pretty well up to getting banged up last week a little bit. Hopefully, we can keep that up.”
Merrill suffered a dislocated hip, Screws a broken collarbone and Shortell a sprained knee.
Merrill’s injury is not career-ending, but he is lost for the season. Screws could return before the end of the season, but that depends on how quickly he heals. Shortell has been back at practice, the beneficiary of an open date and some intense rehab, and is expected to be available at game time.
“You just thank God we had an open date to get some guys some reps, even the backups to those guys,” Clark said. “You’ve got those backups who stepped forward, but then you’ve got guys who were kind of 3s who become 2s, so if another injury happens you could be looking at those guys playing a lot.
“The one good thing for us we get tons of reps. Both of our 1s and 2s rep equally. Now we have to find the things that fit the guys who are coming into these spots.”
The Gamecocks’ passing game personnel, including both quarterbacks, have been through the injury wringer this season. The good news is the players who have replaced the fallen have picked up the slack.
Telvin Brown’s ankle injury opened the door for Screws, who had two catches in the TSU game before he got hurt and a career-high five against Murray State. Gabe Chambers’ balky hamstring opened the door for freshman Anthony Johnson, a converted tight end, and gave Josh Barge more opportunity to shine.
Johnson has 13 catches and a touchdown in seven games, and Barge is the team’s leading receiver with 26 catches for 407 yards.
“That’s just a credit to our coach, (Cornelius) Williams,” Brown said. “He treats us all the same. There is no 1, no 2, no 3. We get more reps according to what’s the personnel call, the play call. We all get the same amount of fundamental reps, which is the big key.
“That’s why I think you see no drop-off when one of us goes down. It’s almost like the other person comes in and produces more because it’s so fresh.”
Brown and Chambers back, but the slack this time falls upon true freshmen Anthony Johnson, Jarren Johnson and Earl Calloway and senior Mike Bradford.
And don’t discount Eli Jenkins as a passer. Not the pure passer Shortell is, Jenkins still has completed 28 of 45 this season. He was 13-of-18 in the North Alabama game and 5-of-5 at Georgia State before reinjuring his left hand. He was 3-of-7 against Tennessee State.
The loss of Screws impacts the Gamecocks in another way. He also was the holder on extra points and field goals. Backup quarterback Kyle West and punter Hamish MacInnes will get the looks there during the practice week.
“Going in, Hamish was a guy we even thought about using,” Clark said. “I don’t know about this week yet. We’re going to see how it goes.
“If it’s just on pure holding ability, Hamish is the guy, but Kyle gives us a lot more opportunity just being another quarterback. Well see how it plays out. That’s why it’s so important to work those 2s like they’re 1s.”