For the first time since he arrived in Columbia, head coach Will Muschamp will not have to worry about depth or inexperience in the South Carolina secondary. This unit has multiple upperclassmen to rely on in 2020. The Gamecocks tandem at corner is one of the best in the nation. At safety, the talent and depth is much improved over the past few seasons. This program has a longstanding tradition of producing high caliber defensive backs. The group in garnet and black this season will look to add to that legacy.
Gamecocks Tandem At Corner Among Nation’s Best
Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu both arrived in the 2018 recruiting class. They each played as freshmen, while the Gamecocks were still trying to rebuild roster depth under Muschamp. Over the past two seasons they have both had some good and bad moments as they honed their skills. Now as juniors they will need to be leaders as well. The pressure to perform at a high level each day will increase as they become upperclassmen.
Horn arrived at South Carolina as a four start recruit and the son of a former NFL star. He knows full well the weight of expectations on his shoulders. Now as a junior he adds the pressure of his NFL future to the list. Horn is projected by some to be a possible first round pick in the 2021 draft. First he’ll need to have a big junior year in garnet and black to solidify those lofty projections.
Over his first two seasons, the 6-1, 200 pound corner has shown excellent coverage skills and the kind of physicality coveted in a defensive back. He has already earned a reputation that urges opposing quarterbacks to look away from his side of the field. The next step in his game is to start creating big plays in the form of turnovers. South Carolina coaches have spoken highly of his ability with the ball in his hands. Horn needs to get his hands on a few interceptions so he can show off that skill set. He will get some looks at punt returner as well, as this staff tries to find more ways to get their best athletes involved.
Big Plays In Big Games
While Jaycee Horn was garnering a reputation as lock down cover guy, the other half of the Gamecocks tandem at corner was getting targeted instead. Mukuamu showed over his first two seasons that he is up to the challenge. He brings even more size to the position at 6’4” 205 pounds, and has even worked at safety during preseason camp. Mukuamu’s biggest moment came in South Carolina’s biggest upset under Muschamp. The 20-17 overtime victory over Georgia last season was an introduction party for the lengthy corner from Louisiana. He picked off three passes, returning one for a score. Each of his other two interceptions were in the red zone and thwarted Bulldog scoring opportunities. He won multiple Player of the Week awards for his performance in the upset.
Mukuamu was tabbed as a second team All-SEC performer as a sophomore, and received some preseason nominations heading into 2020. He has five career interceptions and has started 14 games over two years. His size allows him to make up ground and shrink the windows a quarterback has to fit the ball through. The junior has also shown his versatility, and should play some safety this season. If he does slide over to that position on a regular basis, young guys like John Dixon and Cam Smith will need to be ready to fill in at corner. Both guys saw spot duty as freshmen, but need to take a step forward as their roles increase.
After struggling to find the right fit, the Gamecocks tandem at safety may finally be set and ready to shine. Jammie Robinson was an SEC All-Freshmen selection a year ago. He showed both instincts and toughness that few freshmen possess. His growth in his second season could propel him to an All-SEC level of play. Having two talented veteran corners to rely on the outside will only help him grow into his role at safety. This kid has the ‘It’ factor coaches often speak of. His energy and aggression on the field is evident each week, and it is infectious to his teammates.
Lining up beside him will be junior R.J. Roderick. Another member of the 2018 class with Horn and Mukuamu, he will look to finally cement him place in the Gamecocks secondary. Roderick was a converted quarterback from high school, and spent his first two seasons learning on the job in the secondary. The one thing he definitely brings to the defensive backfield is the presence of a big hitter. The Summerville native likes to arrive at the ball carrier with bad intentions. If he can sure up his technique and positioning, he can develop into a very good player along the last line of the defense.
Call The Vet
After struggling with youth and a shortage in numbers the last few seasons, Muschamp finally has some quality depth to work with. The South Carolina secondary can be the strength of this team behind the likes of Horn and Mukuamu. The improvement at safety will help the Gamecocks tandem at corner be able to play at their best. This group has a chance to be special in 2020, and live up to the legacy of great defensive backs in this program’s history.