COLUMBIA, SC (
) The targeting penalty that freshman D.J. Smith incurred against Kentucky was supposed to keep him out a total of one game - the second half against the Wildcats and the first half of the Furman game. Instead, it's kept him out for two and a half games.
Smith made his first career start against the Wildcats notching three tackles and a pass breakup before being sent to the showers on the first drive of the third quarter. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has praised his freshman for playing physical football and there were not any signs he was disappointed in Smith's level of play in two-plus quarters against the Wildcats.
But since the targeting call against Kentucky, Smith has yet to take a defensive snap in a South Carolina secondary that clearly needs help.
Ward said following the 42-35 loss to Auburn, a game that featured several missed tackles by safeties and completions on cornerbacks, that Smith is a "post safety" and the Gamecocks haven't been in coverages that would put him on the field.
"We didn't play a lot of post safety defense," Ward said. "He's a big striker and we didn't play post safety defense. We played a lot more quarters in this ball game and that's what you have to do if you're going to get an extra hat to a running quarterback. That's the reason that D.J. didn't play was because we didn't play a lot of post safety."
All of Kentucky's offensive numbers improved in the second half over what it put up in the first half when Smith was on the field, which includes scoring 11 more points.
Not that the secondary was the only weak link against Auburn on Saturday night but South Carolina sure seemed like it could have used Smith. The players that Ward sent onto the field may have been in the right spot - and too many times they were not - but there were a lot of missed tackles, and he said as much.
"Even when they threw the ball on the perimeter, we didn't make tackles," Ward said. "They take a five-yard screen, hitch play and turn it into a 14 or 15 yard gain. They exposed us every way they can."
Smith, who made his first appearance of the season against East Carolina, was unable to enroll in the summer like most of the freshmen. He arrived on campus the first week of August, but then had his wisdom teeth taken out and missed more than two weeks of fall camp.
The missed time in July and August has Ward not completely trusting the freshman, who has played both at cornerback and safety this year.
"If you have a lot of moving parts and you're playing a true freshman who missed part of camp -- you want to put him in a situation where he's going to be successful," Ward said. "We're not going to throw him out to the wolves if they're doing a lot of shifting and motion to expose him. He'll play in those situations in the near future."
When asked after the Auburn game if Smith had done something to lose his starting position, which he earned against Kentucky, Ward said, "No, not at all."
Following the Furman game, Ward cited that he was happy with the way that Chris Moody played, but it also came to light that Smith was nursing a bit of a quad bruise that week. Smith practiced every day leading into the game against Auburn, but Ward just wasn't sure he wanted to put Smith in the lineup against a team that did a lot of shifting and moving.
Junior T.J. Gurley, who has started each game since East Carolina, has played fairly well and consistently, but even he didn't have his best game against Auburn.
Moody, Kadetrix Marcus and Chaz Elder, who have shared time at Smith's spot since the ejection, struggled mightily and consistently against the Tigers. They might -- might -- have a better grasp of where to be on defense, but even if they were in the right spot, they weren't making plays.
In Smith's short time on the field, he brought some physicality to the defense but he can't seem to find a way to get back out there. What was supposed to be a suspension that lasted just less than a full game has turned into nearly 10 quarters and there isn't an end in sight.