Spurrier's Backfield Options Post Lattimore
Marcus Lattimore was a dynamic running back when he was on the field. Though injuries hampered his career at South Carolina, the Gamecocks lost a great deal when Lattimore declared for the draft. The degree of South Carolina’s success in 2013 will depend heavily on how well the Gamecocks can fill the backfield void left by Lattimore’s departure.
Last season, Mike Davis is a good job of filling in for the injured Lattimore. In 52 carries, the then-freshman racked up 275 yards. Davis’ 5.3 yards per carry will be crucial in attempting to replace the big-play ability that Lattimore possessed (stats via ESPN).
Davis will start the season as the primary ball carrier and it will be interesting to see if he can deliver long runs and quick strikes that will pair nicely with his bulkier backfield mates. But how the sophomore running back handles being the feature back for a full season has yet to be seen. Davis certainly has the potential, but he’s relatively untested. If he’s up to the challenge, South Carolina is in great shape. If Davis struggles and can’t demonstrate big-play ability, then the Gamecocks will have problems.
Brandon Wilds will share the workload with Davis. Wilds is a battering ram type of back. He’ll mostly slam the ball between the tackles, which will be a reliable way to pick up short yardage. It would help the Gamecocks’ cause if he developed into a strong option inside the red zone and added another rushing threat to pair with Davis.
Shon Carson, like Wilds, is a sophomore. Also like Wilds, he’s a big, bruising tailback. He probably won’t see a ton of carries, but he’ll be available to spell Davis and Wilds if South Carolina needs to give its first two options a breather. The benefit of Carson is that he’s built and runs much like Davis and Wilds, so there shouldn’t be an unhealthy drop-off if Carson subs in.
Freshman Kendric Salley offers something different to the Gamecocks’ rushing attack. Salley is more of a speedster than the other South Carolina running backs. He may get utilized more than Carson simply because he can offer a change of pace. If Davis fails to step up as a guy that can break long runs, then Salley might see more and more carries as South Carolina searches for a playmaker on offense.
Of course, the beauty of South Carolina’s offense is that the quarterbacks get involved in the running game. Last season Connor Shaw had 435 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns (stats via ESPN). But more than that, Shaw is a heady player who made good decisions about when to run and when to throw.
If South Carolina can reliably get three to four yards on the ground from Davis, Wilds or Shaw, then the offense should move down the field consistently. Ball control should be a strength for the Gamecocks in 2013 and the running game will be a big part of that.
Ideally, Davis will step up as a reliable running back and Wilds will serviceably spell Davis when called upon.
If Davis and Wilds meet those expectations, then Shaw won’t be forced to pick up the slack on his own. That’ll save him from taking hits downfield and allow him to use his feet only when a pass isn’t available. That kind of balanced rushing attack would make the Gamecocks a difficult team to beat and might be the linchpin of an offense that could make it to an SEC title game.