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Coach Will Muschamp previews Belk Bowl, updates injuries

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The Gamecocks start practice next week.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp and Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall met with the media today in Charlotte to preview the Belk Bowl, which is roughly two weeks away on Dec. 29. Here are the highlights:

On playing in Charlotte again

“I’ve developed a little bit of a love-hate relationship with this city. Love coming up here and playing because it’s been really good to the University of South Carolina. We’ve got five players on our roster from this area. There’s outstanding high school coaches in this area and really good football players. Love coming to Bank of America Stadium, a venue as good as anywhere in the country, and obviously it’s been good to South Carolina ... The hate part of it is I’ve been on the road the last two weeks recruiting, and every time I call my wife, she says she’s driving to Charlotte to shop, and everything here is really expensive.”

On the Cavaliers

“Got a lot of respect for Coach Mendenhall. As you turn the tape on, his guys play tough and physical, and that’s the biggest compliment you could give a coach. ... Bryce Perkins is a guy that creates a lot of off-rhythm play. ... They’ve got some unique things they do in the run game, Jordan Ellis is an outstanding back. ... They’ve got a 3-4 structure defensively, they’ve got length and athleticism in the front seven and on the back side. ... Two very difficult overtime losses, some tough breaks in both of those games, but possibly could’ve been a 9-10 win team.”

On how to replace Deebo Samuel, who is sitting out

“Shi (Smith) can bump outside and play. We moved Deebo around a lot in the slot and some different spots. We’ve got some guys who are capable. AJ Turner, Rico’s (Dowdle) been a returner, Shi’s done some things for us.”

On the injury front

Javon Kinlaw had surgery, he had a labral tear in his hip. Something we probably could’ve done after the bowl, but obviously we wanted to go ahead and get him healthy and get him ready to go for his senior year. Keisean Nixon will be out for the bowl game. He’s got a fracture in his neck — he’d had some issues with his shoulder and had had some numbness, we ended up doing a CAT scan and then found it after our last ball game. Bryson Allen-Williams will be back, Jaycee Horn will be back, Jaylin Dickerson will be back, Keir Thomas.”

On Deebo’s decision to sit out

“That’s a young man’s decision and certainly we’re going to respect that. I think all situations are different and obviously Deebo’s got a very unique situation. One of the things we talked to him about in coming back for his senior year was, ‘You need to be healthy. You need to show them you can be healthy for an entire season,’ and he’s done that. We wish him all the best. He’s done an outstanding job for us and we appreciate him.”

On who replaces Nixon in the secondary

“Israel’s (Mukuamu) obviously played well for us down the stretch. Jaycee’s a guy who can play nickel or corner. As we start practice there, we’ll go through what’s best for our team.”

Mendenhall on the Gamecocks

“My team is, I would say, wildly excited about this opportunity. They view our matchup against South Carolina as one that is an occasion to rise to. We’ve had a great chance already to see what Coach Muschamp and Carolina looks like on film. While we haven’t crossed paths before, it’s fun to see a defensive-minded head coach as well as an offense that is fast and furious that plays with a dynamic and explosive mindset. I think the two program had similar seasons — so many close games, and one or two more could have gone our way and their way. ... For both teams, eight (wins) looks a lot better than seven. ... I think it’s one of the best and most intriguing matchups.”

Notable

Aaron Sterling will “possibly” return for the bowl. ... Along the offensive line, Donnell Staley will slide to guard and Chandler Farrell will play center with Zack Bailey’s absence.