Ernest Jones vs. Tennessee

South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones (53) kicks his leg in frustration after not being able to stop Florida during second-quarter action in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

South Carolina avoided serious injury to two key players Saturday night as linebacker Ernest Jones and left tackle Sadarius Hutcherson are both expected to return this week against Vanderbilt.

Jones, the Mike linebacker, suffered an elbow injury and missed most of the second half in the 41-21 loss at Tennessee. Hutcherson suffered an ankle injury during the game.

Both were key losses as the South Carolina’s defense gave up 24 second-half points and the offensive line had trouble protecting quarterback Ryan Hilinski as the offense was shut out in the second half.

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Running back Rico Dowdle, who suffered a sprained knee against Florida, is expected to miss at least one more week, head coach Will Muschamp said Sunday night. Right tackle Dylan Wonnum, who has missed the last four games, is also not expected to play Saturday.

With both starting tackles out Saturday night, South Carolina had to play two freshmen and two sophomores on the offensive line in the second half. Tennessee had three sacks, five quarterback hurries and had pressure on Hilinski most of the game. Asked how much the Gamecocks have missed Wonnum at right tackle, Muschamp said, “It’s pretty obvious.”

South Carolina could get freshman running back Kevin Harris back for the Appalachian State game Nov. 9.

Muschamp said he would know more about defensive end Kier Thomas this week. Thomas, a senior, has missed the whole season after suffering a post-surgery infection in his ankle. Thomas could play the final four games and still return next season for a redshirt year.