Cats’ corners hope to avoid repeat success by Jeffery


Senior cornerback Randall Burden hopes his new beard can help him make as many plays on the field as it has off the field this summer. Photo by Brandon Goodwin

The UK defense has had to match up with more than its fair share of elite wide receivers in the last two seasons. The Cats have had to account for Alabama’s Julio Jones and Georgia’s A.J. Green, but neither of those players gave the secondary fits like a little-known freshman did last year in Columbia, S.C.

Alshon Jeffery, now a sophomore playing for South Carolina, broke out against UK last year for seven catches, 138 yards and three touchdowns last year, leading the Gamecocks to a 28-26 win.

Jeffery has continued that torrid pace this year, averaging 125 yards a game. He’s also had two receiving touchdowns in each of the last two weeks against Auburn and Alabama.

“He’s a hell of a receiver,” UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. “He’s killing everybody right now. But our guys are competitive and they’re up to the challenge.”

The big part of that challenge is accounting for Jeffery on every play. South Carolina’s offensive game plan often moves him around to different parts of the field to create matchup problems, meaning every defensive back has to be ready to cover him. He is clearly the most dangerous Gamecock receiver; no other player has more than 145 receiving yards this year.

Junior cornerback Randall Burden and sophomore corner Martavious Neloms were primarily responsible for covering Jeffery last year, giving up all three of the touchdowns. But they were both thrown into action, as starting corners Paul Warford and Trevard Lindley both sat the game out with injuries. It was particularly rough on Neloms, who hadn’t seen much action as a true freshman before that game.

“I didn’t know their receivers were that good at the time,” Burden said. “I was thrown in there and didn’t know what to expect.”

The Cats hadn’t spent much time gameplanning for Jeffery last year; before the UK game he’d never had more than two catches in a game. To prepare for Jeffery this time around, freshman tight end Ronnie Shields is playing the part of Jeffery on the scout team in practice. Jeffery is listed at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, while Shields is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds.

The matchup doesn’t get much better for whichever corner doesn’t draw Jeffery on a given play. South Carolina’s other starter at receiver, sophomore Tori Gurley, is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds.

“(Their receivers) are not only tall but they’re athletic and they can catch the ball,” Brown said. “What you try to do is be in the right position and put pressure on the quarterback.”

Jeffery wasn’t completely unknown before torching UK last year, thanks to former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin made Jeffery famous when he told him during recruiting that he’d end up pumping gas for the rest of his life if he committed to South Carolina, raising questions about Kiffin’s recruiting tactics and ethics.

Then he fell back into relative anonymity. But after one afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium, at the expense of Burden and Neloms, all that changed.

“He wasn’t doing too much before (last year’s game),” Burden said. “But this week we’re looking more towards him.”