Despite being a true freshman and wearing a cast to protect a broken bone in his hand, Cliff Matthews will make the first start of his career Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m.) at outside linebacker in front of 92,000 boisterous LSU fans in Baton Rouge and a CBS national television audience.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix is confident Matthews won't be overwhelmed his surroundings.
Matthews practiced for the first time Thursday with his in the cast after sustaining the injury earlier in the week.
"He looked pretty good today," Nix said. "Of course, we weren't live or have full contact. He's played in our backyard and he played at Georgia. It doesn't matter what time you hit the field. He's going out with the first group rather than coming off the bench."
Nix hopes shifting Brinkley to defensive end and putting Matthews at outside linebacker will improve USC's defense.
Matthews, along with Japer Brinkley and Rodney Paulk, will start at linebacker. The starting defensive front will be Casper Brinkley and Eric Norwood at defensive end and Marque Hall and Ladi Ajiboye at defensive tackle.
Matthews, formerly the backup to Eric Norwood at defensive end, was promoted to the starting lineup after a solid outing last weekend in the 38-3 victory over S.C. State. He finished with four tackles and impressed the coaches with his ability to run sideline-to-sideline.
Other than Isaac, the starting secondary will remain the same from last week: Captain Munnerlyn at cornerback and Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart at safety. Carlos Thomas will likely start at the cornerback spot opposite Munnerlyn.
Matthews replaces defensive tackle Nathan Pepper in the starting lineup. The coaching staff returned Casper Brinkley to defensive end to compensate for the loss of Pepper.
"I'm always cautious not to get players hurt in practice," Steve Spurrier said in the opening segment of his radio show Thursday night. "But after a practice, he told the trainers his hand hurts a little bit. It was X-rayed and he has a cracked bone in there somewhere. I don't think it's serious. He's going to play with (a foam cast).
No. 12 USC went through its next-to-last workout in preparation for the 2nd-ranked Tigers, who have outscored its first three opponents by a 137-7 margin. The Gamecocks will have a final walk-through Friday at Williams-Brice Stadium before departing for Baton Rouge.
Spurrier believes the fact the game will be played in the afternoon could give USC an edge.
"Historically, LSU doesn't play as well in the daytime as they do at night," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, that will continue. But they're a very good team. We have some pretty good practices. We know it's a big task going out there. We realize there's a whole bunch of games after this. But it is an opportunity to do some things that have never been done before."
With the Gamecocks being two-touchdown underdogs, and many national media people predicting a runaway LSU victory, Spurrier has remained low key this week.
"We haven't talked big this week," Spurrier said. "We're just talking about the best we can. The one thing I do not want to happen is put all our eggs in one basket. You have to be careful. But I think we'll be in the game with them. Our hope is that it will be a low-scoring game. We're just not quite good enough offensively to score a ton of points."
On the injury front, Chris Smelley is listed as probable and will serve as Blake Mitchell's top backup Saturday. However, Spurrier wasn't prepared to say Thursday that he will definitely play.
"That's a secret," Spurrier said. "We've been so good throwing it (laughing). Smelley is No. 2 right now. Mitchell is starting and Smelley is second."
Spurrier said Thursday night Stewart suffered a strained knee in practice this week. OL Garrett Anderson missed a day of practice after having someone step on his foot. Both players should be ready to play.
Chris Culliver and Isaac (shoulder) will both travel with the team to Baton Rouge. Nix said Isaac wouldn't start and will likely play more cornerback than safety.
Dustin Lindsey (knee), Gurminder Thind (foot), Yvan Banag (knee) and Kevin Young (ankle) have all been ruled out. They will not play.
MITCHELL KNOWS WHAT HE HAS TO DO: Steve Spurrier said this week quarterback Blake Mitchell has a tendency to lose confidence and rush throws before the receiver has a chance to run the pattern. Mitchell didn't dispute what his head coach said.
Mitchell completed 14-of-21 passes for three touchdowns in the win over S.C. State. But he also threw three interceptions.
"I just need to get in there and just let the ball go and not think to much," Mitchell said. "If I throw to the right spot, I'll be fine. My last game was poor. I just have to put it behind me and keep going. I can't afford to mess up."
Spurrier praised Mitchell for a strong performance in Wednesday's practice.
"I wasn't great but I threw it pretty decent," Mitchell said. "Hopefully, by Saturday I'll be ready to go. No one really cares what you do in practice. They just care about the game."
Mitchell has completed 34-of-52 passes (65.4 percent) for 321 yards in two games after sitting out the season opener due to a one-game suspension for academic reasons.
DAVIS CHERISHES COMPETITION WITH BOYD: Mike Davis believes his backfield competition with Cory Boyd has made him a better running back.
Davis, a junior from Columbia, has 252 yards and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry through the first three games of the season. Boyd has just three more yards than Davis.
Both running backs are on track to rush for more than 1,000 yards, a feat that's been accomplished only once in USC history. Kevin Long (1,133 yards) and Clarence Williams (1,073 yards) both reached the millennium mark in 1975.
"Its always a competition when we come out here," Davis said. "(Cory) pushes me. I push him. Brian pushes me. The backfield kind of works together. I've had a tendency of having a late start but things are working out better than me. It's always fun to go out there and help the team out as much as we can."
ANDERSON'S HAND CLOSE TO 100 PERCENT: Garrett Anderson, a sophomore guard from Irmo, S.C., has been bothered by a broken bone in his right hand since fall camp. He suffered the injury during a scuffle with Ladi Ajiboye early in fall camp. Anderson reported this week that the hand is close to 100 percent.
"We got it x-rayed a few days ago and its solid right now," Anderson said. "It hasn't hurt me in forever, but obviously we're being cautious. We're just padding it and its not bothering me at all. I'm pretty much back to where I was at before. I'm throwing my hand into defensive lineman and I'm not feeling anything."
Anderson believes removing the cast from his hand will improve his blocking ability.
"You have to be able to grip somebody when you're blocking and not having that hand really didn't help," Anderson said. "I was working on a bunch of stuff this weekend and I'm hoping it's going to help me out a lot. I think it's going to be because that's how offense linemen work."
Anderson started the first two games of the season at left guard but switched over to the right side when Gurminder Thind was awarded a start last weekend. But Thind suffered a foot injury early in the S.C. State game and Anderson moved back to left guard.
Anderson made four starts last season as a true freshman after a stellar career at Dutch Fork High School. When Anderson arrived at USC in July of 2006, he thought redshirting was the best option. But when the offensive line got off to a slow start last season, Anderson was thrown into the lineup.
"When I got here, we were lacking on the depth chart, but we have 18 guys now," Anderson said. "Those guys behind me, they weren't good as freshmen because they didn't know what they were doing. It helps (to have large numbers at OL) because you have to be better. If you're not doing your job, there is a guy behind you that will take your spot. It pushes you to be the best that you can be."
MILES SAYS FLYNN WILL LIKELY PLAY: LSU's senior quarterback Matt Flynn appears to have recovered from an ankle injury that sidelined him last week. However, LSU head coach Les Miles stopped short of naming him the starter.
"It was encouraging to see Flynn out there taking a lion's share of the snaps," Miles said following LSU's workout Wednesday afternoon. "He looked to have mobility. He looked good rowing the ball. Matt looked very positive today."
Flynn suffered a sprained ankle in the surprisingly easy victory against Virginia Tech Sept. 8 and watched from the sidelines last week as back backup Ryan Perrilloux completed 20-of-25 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-0 victory over Middle Tennessee. It was the first career start for Perrilloux.
"Matt could have played last week," Miles said. "He's much closer to 100 percent at this point than he was at anytime last week. That's all I'm saying now. The starter is undecided."
ESPN reported Thursday Flynn has taken the majority of snaps in practice and will make his third start of the season against the Gamecocks.
Flynn has connected on 29-of-46 passes (63.0 percent) for 345 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions this season.
Miles says he wasn't concerned about USC head coach Steve Spurrier handing former Tigers coach Nick Saban much of the credit for turning the LSU program around.
"I've never worried about getting credit," Miles said. "Spurrier and I are acquaintances. To me, it has never been about coaches. It is always about the teams. The only thing I know is that I expect to get (South Carolina's) very best shot."
Miles believes the decision to shift Casper Brinkley to defensive end from his outside linebacker spot and insert true freshman Cliff Matthews into his former position won't have much impact on the game. The move was necessitated by the season-injury injury to DL Nathan Peppers.
"I was watching No. 51 (Casper Brinkley) and he's one of their better players," Miles said. "They may choose to move their personnel around. I don't know if that affects them very much."
Miles reiterated Wednesday that OL Will Arnold (viral infection) and WR Early Doucet (groin) will not play this week against the Gamecocks. LSU will practice in helmets and shoulder pads Thursday and have a final walk-through Friday.
"It was a good Wednesday practice," Miles said. "I like the way we practiced today. Our guys practiced hard. As long as they continue to do that, they'll get better. It will show on Saturday."
-- Weather Forecast: The web site weather.com for the Baton Rouge area calls for scattered thunderstorms and high temperatures in the upper 80's for Saturday afternoon. The game will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. local time.
-- Spurrier responded "I don't blame him" when advised Spencer Tillman of CBS predicted LSU would win Saturday's game by four touchdowns. "It could be seven," Spurrier said. "Who knows what will happen. But we'll be ready to play. That's okay. That's not a hard pick."
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