The University of South Carolina’s top defensive back has been suspended by the Southeastern Conference following a helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless player.

D.J. Swearinger – whose 65-yard fumble return for a touchdown sparked the seventh-ranked Gamecocks’ win over UAB last week – will sit out South Carolina’s home SEC opener against Missouri as a result of the hit against UAB wide receiver Patrick Hearn.

Swearinger was suspended for violating an NCAA rule which states that “no player may target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder.”

Here’s the play in question …

“These rules are for the protection of the health and safety of our players on both sides of the ball,”  SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement.  “It is imperative that our student-athletes understand the importance of this rule.  Our motivation in making these decisions is to protect our student-athletes.”

Yeah … and while it’s easy to argue with the rule, it’s hard to argue with its enforcement in this case.  Swearinger – a 6-foot, 210-pound senior from Greenwood, S.C. – should have known better than to head hunt in that situation, and now he’ll have to sit out a critical game as a result.

Swearinger is the second player suspended by the SEC this year for a helmet-to-helmet hit.  Ole Miss freshman cornerback Trae Elston was suspended  a week ago for violating the same rule.

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Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina