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September 28, 2011

Byrd the solution for USC's struggles?



South Carolina's offense, with only one sparkplug consistently firing, needs a lot of repair work.

The No. 10 Gamecocks are hoping that the new part that's just arrived will smooth over the knocking engine.

Freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd, one of the biggest pick-ups in the most recent recruiting class, is eligible to play on Saturday when Auburn (3-1, 1-0 SEC) comes to town. Docked four games for his association with a mentoring foundation near his native New Jerseys and punished by the NCAA, the fleet rookie has been cleared and will make his college debut on Saturday.

"He'll suit up, and he's a true freshman and hasn't played yet, but he'll be in the mix," coach Steve Spurrier said on Tuesday. "He'll be out there with, we play six receivers, he'll certainly be out there."

Byrd was the talk of preseason practice, his ridiculous speed (he once ran the 100 meters in 10.42 seconds) making him stand out in drills. During the scrimmages, he caught a touchdown in every one, prompting receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. to say that Byrd was definitely a candidate to automatically be one of his six receivers that he'll focus on getting ready from week to week.

Byrd, excited that he was going to get to play right away in an offense expected to be explosive, was naturally enthused.

"I feel like nobody can catch me once I get that first step on them," he said at the team's Media Day (he has not been allowed to speak since the improper benefits during his recruitment were announced). "I just have to work on my route-running and timing and I feel like I can make an impact."

In football, it's difficult for one player to drastically make an impact, but it can happen (see Lattimore, Marcus). The Gamecocks are hoping Byrd's addition will kick-start their sputtering passing game, which has struggled to even be consistent, much less productive, over the first four games.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia hasn't been able to complete a deep pass this year, which seemingly presents a problem where Byrd is concerned. With such a natural gift as his speed, the obvious play for Byrd to be a star is to send him on the go route and drop the ball in his hands; but Garcia hasn't been able to do that with All-American Alshon Jeffery and the freshman has yet to get in an actual game.

The coaching staff wouldn't put Byrd on the field unless it felt he was ready, and Spurrier has said that Byrd will play on Saturday, although he probably won't start. Plays such as end-arounds and reverses could be in the mix, but one gets the sense that Spurrier is just aching to complete one deep touchdown pass. Not only would it put six points on the board, but it may wipe away whatever's ailing Garcia right now and get him back on track.

"We're still trying to throw, but not much good is happening," Spurrier said on Wednesday, during the SEC coaches' teleconference. "Fortunately, we've found a way to win without completing many passes."

Byrd has remained practicing with the regular group while he's been suspended (as in, not on the scout team) and has kept his chin up. He gets the chance to show all he's learned, for real, on Saturday.

He wants to be the guy that can provide the missing link. The coaches want anyone to be that guy. If Byrd shows that he can be as proficient at running routes as he is at out-racing a defender, and if Garcia can get the ball to him, perhaps the Gamecocks' offense will find its missing gear.

Those are a lot of "ifs," but ones that Byrd could replace with "wills."

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