COLUMBIA — South Carolina needs to feel better.
The Gamecocks are turning to a player that’s feeling better to get there.
“He should be ready to go for the game,” USC coach Will Muschamp said of junior linebacker/defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who’s been out since the first game after ankle surgery. “We need to get a guy like him back. To me, he brings a lot of intangibles back to our defense.”
Wonnum, expected to be the magnum force of USC’s defense, tore a ligament in his ankle that didn’t reveal itself until a second MRI the week after the Coastal Carolina game on Sept 1. Muschamp and USC thought it was just a sprain and Wonnum was announced as good to go the Thursday before Georgia.
But unnatural swelling on Friday prompted a closer look and a second scan, showing the tear. Wonnum was on the sideline with his foot on a rolling cart for Georgia and while he’s dressed the last two games, he wasn’t going to play.
That ends Saturday. Wonnum moved around well during Sunday’s practice and the Gamecocks were off Monday, but Muschamp expects him to be ready when Tennessee rolls into town for a primetime shootout.
The move takes a lot of the burden from Bryson Allen-Williams, who can move back to his outside linebacker role and bring a better tackling presence to that position. It gives the Gamecocks much more of a pass-rushing presence, something sorely needed as USC has 10 sacks for the season, ranking 13th in the SEC.
Wonnum has 7½ sacks among his 17½ career tackles for loss and has drawn raves for his devotion to the game and the Gamecocks. Only the third player in school history to earn a captaincy as a sophomore, Wonnum didn’t know and didn’t care that he was inexplicably not named to the preseason All-SEC team.
“I play football,” he said. “I’m going to do my job regardless.”
Wonnum has only played in one game and could play in three more and still preserve a redshirt. That was about 12 seconds’ worth of consideration, if at all.
“He wants to play,” Muschamp said. “So he’s gonna play.”
Wonnum’s return doesn’t help Jake Bentley with his confidence or make the receivers’ hands stickier. It doesn’t make any of the final five opponents, two that are in the Top 10 and three that have the game at home, any easier to beat.
It does bring a vital voice back to the team, one that’s been around while he was hurt but not in the presence USC needed. Wonnum, not much of a talker other than how he plays, isn’t the rah-rah type.
Yet he’s integral to the team’s psyche, which after starting 3-3, needs a dose of feel-good.
Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.