Swearinger must sit after 'dangerous' hit

Senior safety suspended as Missouri brings its spread offense to Williams-Brice

jkendall@thestate.comSeptember 17, 2012 

South Carolina Gamecocks safety D.J. Swearinger (36) breaks up a pass in the third quarter of the Gamecocks game against UAB at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. Swearinger was called for a flag on the play.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger, the No. 7 Gamecocks’ best defensive back and a team captain, has been suspended by the SEC from Saturday’s game against Missouri.

The suspension was the result of a hit against UAB wide receiver Patrick Hearn in the third quarter of the Gamecocks’ 49-6 victory. Swearinger was called for a personal foul because he hit Hearn above the shoulders while Hearn was in what officials deemed a “defenseless” position. The SEC called the hit “flagrant and dangerous” in a release announcing the suspension Monday morning.

“The action is in violation of Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA Football Rule Book, which reads, ‘No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder,’” the release said. “By playing rule, a defenseless opponent is defined by ‘one who because his physical position and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury.’ One of the examples in the rule book is a receiver whose focus is on catching a pass.”

The announcement didn’t come as a huge surprise for the team, but the timing could hardly be worse. South Carolina (3-0) welcomes the Tigers and their spread offense to Williams-Brice Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. game. Eleven Tigers have caught passes this season, and Missouri regularly uses four- and five-wide receiver sets.

Swearinger is tied for South Carolina’s team lead with three pass breakups. He also has 10 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery through three games.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier declined comment on the suspension through a spokesperson, but indicated he would have something to say at Tuesday’s regular press conference. Spurrier addressed Swearinger’s hit on Sunday, when he said he hoped a suspension would not be levied.

“It was a collision where (Swearinger) turned his head when he hit the guy,” Spurrier said. “There was some helmet-to-helmet above the shoulder pads, but that’ll be up to the commissioner (Mike Slive) and Steve Shaw, the head of officials. They will make the call.”

Spurrier compared the hit to one Justice Cunningham received from Vanderbilt’s Andre Hal on Aug. 30. Hal was flagged for a personal foul but was not suspended. Shaw told The State that the difference in the plays was the area of impact on the offensive player. Shaw and Slive watched replays of both hits multiple times in slow motion, Shaw said.

“Even though you have to get it frame by frame to really see the difference, there is a distinct difference in the impact area of those two hits,” Shaw said. “The clear impact of the front of the helmet of (Swearinger) goes directly into the facemask of the receiver. (With Hal’s hit) the primary point of impact was into the shoulder area.”

Hits on a defenseless player are the league officials’ No. 1 point of emphasis this fall, Shaw said, and the SEC rulebook mandate that all hits to the head have to be reviewed by conference officials, he said.

“I can promise you this: (Slive’s decision) is rooted in player safety,” Shaw said. “Imagine it is your son on the receiving end of that. Is that a hit you like in the game? That you condone?”

Shortly before the suspension was announced, a video clip of the hit was posted on Swearinger’s Twitter account (@JungleBoi_Swagg) with the comment, “Big hit against uab!!!”

Like most of South Carolina’s football players, Swearinger has not been active on Twitter since preseason practice began the first week of August, but Socialcam.com, the site to which the video was posted, does allow updates to be posted automatically to Twitter. The video, as well as another showing an interception by Swearinger, were removed from the Twitter and Socialcam.com shortly after they were posted.

Shaw did not see the post, and it had “absolutely nothing” to do with the SEC’s decision, he said.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward could not be reached Monday to discuss how the Gamecocks will react to Swearinger’s absence. Swearinger is backup up by walk-on Jared Shaw, but true freshman T.J. Gurley has gotten significant playing time this season.

South Carolina also might move spur DeVonte Holloman to safety, the position he played last season, and start either Sharrod Golightly (who returns this week from a three-game suspension), freshman Jordan Diggs or senior Damario Jeffery at spur.

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