If D.J. Swearinger has proved anything during the 2012 college football season, it is that he loves to hit from his position in the South Carolina Gamecocks secondary.
Sometimes that love to hit draws the yellow laundry on the field.
Other times it can be channeled into an interception returned for a touchdown.
Funny enough, those were the events of a dramatic three-play spread in the third quarter during the game against Arkansas that was as much a microcosm of Swearinger’s 2012 season as it was a turning point in the game.
With the Gamecocks ahead 24-10, Arkansas took the ball in the third quarter at its own 25-yard line but quickly moved up the field behind a horse-collar tackle Swearinger made on running back Nate Holmes that resulted in a personal foul penalty.
The next play, Swearinger popped Razorback receiver Javontee Herndon with a hit that was also deemed a personal foul penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact.
With the Razorbacks firmly in South Carolina territory, the improbable happened when Swearinger picked off Tyler Wilson and raced 69 yards for a touchdown…
…And then he heaved the ball into the stands in celebration and drew another penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Nevertheless, the play turned into a gamebreaker and helped seal South Carolina’s 38-20 victory over Arkansas, while Swearinger finished with a monster effort (13 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD) that earned honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation as the National Defensive Player of the Week.
Swearinger might have made up for his two personal foul penalties with a pick-six, and his celebration penalty ended up being a non-factor on Arkansas’ next possession, but the fact remains that at times Swearinger can get himself into trouble with not only his hits but his occasional lack of composure.
Earlier in the season, he was suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit against UAB that kept him out of the Missouri game. Granted, the hit drew its share of argument from head coach Steve Spurrier in a conference call following the announcement by the SEC (h/t USA Today), but regardless the suspension stood.
Following the game against Arkansas, Darryl Slater of the Post and Courier reported that Swearinger believed he would not be suspended for the Wofford game because of his hit against Herndon.
“I actually tried to turn and lead with my shoulder, but in the speed of the game, it’s hard for the refs to see that,” he said. “I think they’ll see that I led with my shoulder. I know I tried to lead with my shoulder. I don’t think I should get suspended because I led with my shoulder.”
But then he went the route of James Harrison in the NFL by stating that he believes the referees are targeting him for penalties as well. “When I go in for a hit, I think the referees will likely throw a flag because of my reputation. But I can’t worry about that,” Swearinger said.
South Carolina will likely cruise over Wofford, but with their big rivalry game against Clemson looming the week after and a possible high-profile bowl game, Swearinger will need to be in control of his hitting and his emotions in the Gamecocks secondary.
Make no mistake, his willingness to attack the ball has proved dividends this season (54 tackles, 2 INTs), but Swearinger cannot put himself in positions to be flagged for helmet-to-helmet hits, even if he’s leading with the shoulder.
The reality is referees are going to call a penalty each and every time for a hit that goes high, no matter how grossly unpopular it seems to fans in the modern game of football.
Even so, Swearinger’s composure will be paramount under those circumstances. The Gamecocks can ill-afford to give up unsportsmanlike penalties especially if their last few games end up closer in the latter stages of the game.