The shuffling of the South Carolina secondary seemed to suit D.J. Swearinger. He started at cornerback but spent most of the afternoon playing the nickel back position as South Carolina slowed the Arkansas passing attack in a 38-20 victory Saturday afternoon.
Swearinger finished with a team-high as well as his season-high 13 tackles and his interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter took much of the wind out of the Razorbacks sails.
We felt like D.J. could make some plays if we put him at nickel back, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. We tried to match personnel. When Arkansas has three receivers, we put nickel in the game. We felt like he could make some plays closer to the ball, being inside.
But even with his solid day, a three-play sequence for the senior from Greenwood stood out. The Gamecocks were called for personal fouls on three consecutive plays and Swearinger was involved in all three. But even with slew of penalties, the Gamecocks found themselves with a touchdown out of the mix.
It started with a horse-collar penalty that was called on Brison Williams that both Swearinger and Ward confirmed after the game should have been called on Swearinger. The next play, Swearinger was flagged for a personal foul for a hit on Razorback receiver Javontee Herndon. As soon as Herndon caught the ball, Swearinger went in high and was flagged for what was called contact above the shoulders on a defenseless player.
On the next play, Wilson tried to find Cobi Hamilton in the middle of the USC zone but threw it right to Swearinger. After making the pick, he raced down the USC sideline untouched for a 69-yard score.
The first two penalties was me playing football and instincts, Swearinger said.
After Swearinger scored, he threw the ball into the student section to draw the third personal foul penalty in as many plays.
On the pick six, it was sort of a stress reliever from both the penalties, Swearinger said. I got it in the end zone and in having fun it was sort of a stress reliever, so I tossed the ball.
Ward said there would definitely be some punishment involved for throwing the ball into the stands.
Well address it because that is an after-the-play penalty, Ward said. We have punishment for after-the-play penalties and hell pay for it on Monday.
Steve Spurrier was a little less annoyed by the final penalty.
My reaction was you cant do that, but it didnt hurt us obviously, Spurrier said. The penalty didnt mean anything. So if you had a penalty that didnt mean anything, you cant get too upset about it.
The biggest concern now for Swearinger is if his hit will cause another suspension handed down by the SEC. Swearinger was suspended earlier this season against Missouri after he had a similar hit on a UAB receiver.
But Swearinger thought this hit was clean.
On the hit, I actually tried to turn and lead with my shoulder, he said. In the speed of the game, its hard for the refs to see that. I think theyll see I tried to lead with my shoulder. Whatever happens after that I dont think I should be suspended because I did lead with my shoulder.
The Gamecocks were trying to shake up the secondary after Tennessee shredded them for 381 yards two weeks ago.
Wilson had success, especially in the first half when he threw for 192 yards and had the Gamecocks on their heels. But with DeVonte Holloman moving to boundary safety and Swearinger playing mainly nickel, they made second-half adjustments to limit the Hogs to 139 yards, with 85 yards coming through the air.
And again, the red-zone defense helped. Arkansas was inside the USC 20-yard line five times but came away with two field goals, two touchdowns and a costly turnover in the first half.
Im proud of the way the guys played in the red zone, Ward said. If I dont put them in a bad situation with a bad call, I think theyre just comfortable lining up and playing.