COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina tailback Rico Dowdle could feel the difference immediately without Deebo Samuel at practice Tuesday.
Samuel had surgery Sunday after breaking a bone in his left leg in South Carolina’s 23-13 loss to Kentucky on Saturday night. Samuel, who leads the Southeastern Conference with six touchdowns, is possibly out for the remainder of season.
“He brings a different energy level and never slows down out there,” Dowdle said. “A player like him is definitely going to have an effect on the whole team when you see he’s not practicing.”
But Dowdle and teammates said during interviews this week, “Man down, man up.” When a player gets injured, someone has to replace him.
“It’s life, it happens,” Dowdle said. “We just got to get through it and keep going.”
The Gamecocks (2-1) step out of the Southeastern Conference against Louisiana Tech (2-1), which is coached by former South Carolina offensive coordinator Skip Holtz.
Samuel was the offensive engine for South Carolina this season with six of the team’s 11 TDs through three games. More than that, he jumpstarted the team’s offense with 97-yard kickoff return touchdowns in wins over North Carolina State and Missouri.
Samuel did it once more last week, his 68-yard touchdown catch coming on the Kentucky game’s opening snap.
But Samuel was on the ground in pain after a 9-yard catch in the third quarter. He came back for one more play before leaving for good.
Receiver Bryan Edwards visited Samuel in the hospital. Edwards said it will take a collective effort to replace Samuel, who scored on runs and catches along with his special teams’ TDs.
“A guy like Deebo with the amount of touches he had and his explosiveness. We all have to do our part,” Edwards said.
Edwards will be one of those counted on, along with Randrecous Davis, a promising freshman receiver who has filed for a medical redshirt because of a hamstring injury last year. Davis understands Samuel’s pain and worry because he’d previously gone through it.
“It was a sad phone call because I was in the same position before,” Davis said. “We all get coached the same way like Deebo was. I just have to try and take advantage of it.”
Coach Will Muschamp spoke with Samuel this morning and said his attitude was good. He believes South Carolina can recover despite Samuel’s injury. Even after Samuel left, the Gamecocks pulled within 20-13 of Kentucky on OrTre Smith’s fourth-quarter touchdown and were within a stop of getting back into the game.
Muschamp is obviously disappointed to lose one of the league’s top performers. He also feels bad for Samuel, who had generated some early buzz for All-American, Heisman Trophy and other awards.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for him,” Muschamp said. “But one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.”
Louisiana Tech is coming off a 23-22 victory at Western Kentucky on a 21-yard field goal by Jonathan Barnes with 2 seconds to go. Barnes said Tech’s 10-point, fourth-quarter rally honed a winning attitude the players can carry throughout the year starting at South Carolina.
“It’s exciting to come out and build confidence for the rest of the year,” Barnes said.
Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley, who completed 16 straight passes against Kentucky, said the team has to work on improving and not wallow on what went wrong.
“This is going to be a test for us,” he said. “We talk about it all the time, ‘So what. Now what?’
“We’ve got to put that game behind us,” Bentley said. “And focus on what’s ahead.”