Kaiwan Lewis (#8) pursues a player during the North Carolina game on Aug. 29th, 2013. (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)
Ron Aiken, GamecockCentral.com
Kaiwan Lewis was ready - physically, mentally, spiritually, you name it.
Since last season he'd been preparing for the moment, knowing that even though he was contributing on special teams, the middle linebacker position manned by senior Shaq Wilson was waiting on him, had his name on it, and it was just a matter of time, patience and good old-fashioned hard work.
Lewis put in the time and hard work, exercised the patience and against North Carolina took the field for the first time as the starter, a position he hopes to lock down for the next three seasons. His results were Clowney-esque, though not in the way you'd think that would mean: just three tackles in some 50 snaps.
Lewis said the biggest thing you can't prepare for, no matter how hard you try or how much you want to, is the speed of the game, especially when facing an up-tempo team such as North Carolina.
"Fast," Lewis said of his first experience as the starter. "It was fast. That was the biggest thing.
You have to play fast. If they're playing fast, you have to play fast.
"The first drive was pretty tough. I didn't realize how loud the crowd was going to be on defense. So the first series was a little tough."
The noise and the inexperience, Lewis said, led to some mistakes along the way calling out checks - typically a middle linebacker's role, though others play a big part as well - during the game.
"Brison (Williams at free safety) and myself call out the checks," Lewis said. "I'm pretty sure we all had mistakes out there. But I didn't have too many. It wasn't as tough as I would think it would be. You just relax and play the same way I practice. I just played my game."
Against North Carolina, the play tempo was more sideline to sideline, Lewis said. With Gerogia, that should change.
"North Carolina, you had to defend all their screens left to right," Lewis said. "That shouldn't be an issue this game. You have to worry about coming downhill and containing the two backs they have down there."
Facing the Tigers, the Bulldogs rushed for 242 yards led by sophomore tailback Todd Gurley's 154 yards on 12 carries and two scores, including an 80-yard touchdown run. Fellow sophomore tailback Keith Marshall added 43 yards on 16 carries. There's no question that to stop Georgia, you have to slow those two down, something No. 6 South Carolina was able to do last year in Columbia when the pair combined to rush 25 times for 76 yards and no touchdowns.
"The plan is always to stop the run, but the plan this week is to come more downhill, be more physical," Lewis said.
The key to bringing down Gurley is simple, Lewis said.
"Hit him before he hits you," Lewis said. "Every time you hit him, let him know you're coming. Let him know you're here."
Being "here" is something Lewis is excited about.
"I worked out for a whole year, I got my body changed and did the things I needed to do," Lewis said. "Now I have a game under my belt and I know what to expect going into Georgia. I feel like we'll be able to check a lot more easier with the crowd being on their side.
"I'm ready to play."