South Carolina Gamecocks Tailback Preview

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BIRMINGHAM, AL - DECEMBER 29: South Carolina Gamecocks running back Rico Dowdle (23) takes the handoff from South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley (19) in the Birmingham Bowl between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the South Florida Bulls. South Florida defeated South Carolina by the score of 46-39 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Heading into last season, South Carolina fans had little idea who would be carrying the ball for their team. David Williams was the only known name at tailback, and he had been underwhelming during his Gamecock career. Fast forward twelve months and Williams has transferred, but the South Carolina has no shortage of options in its backfield.

South Carolina Gamecocks -Tailback Preview

Last season, freshman A.J. Turner and Rico Dowdle took over the tailback duties as the season went on. Both ball carriers showed varying skill sets that complimented each other throughout the year. They return and will look to build on their solid first seasons.

Unlikely Workhorse

Rico Dowdle was a late addition to the 2016 recruiting class, and played quarterback at his high school in Asheville, NC. A preseason ankle injury stunted his opportunities early in his freshman year. Once healthy, he began to break into the tailback rotation. He received his first carries of the year against Texas A&M in the fifth week of the season. Dowdle’s combination of shiftiness and power was quickly evident. He slowly worked his way from a part of the rotation to the featured tailback in South Carolina’s offense.

After the bye week, Dowdle was inserted as the starter and responded with 363 yards in his next three games. His back-to-back, 100-yard games in wins over Tennessee and Missouri showed his full complement of skills. He showed the physicality to run in between the tackles and fight for tough yards on short distance downs. The rising sophomore has also flashed his elusiveness and ability to make guys miss in the open field. His inside-out juke move that floored a Tennessee defender on a 40-yard run last season quickly made it to his YouTube highlight reel.

He struggled like most of his Gamecock teammates in road losses to Florida and Clemson. Dowdle did however have a career high 226 yards and two touchdowns against West Carolina in between those two below-average performances. Despite missing the first four games, he was able to finish his freshman campaign with 764 yards on the ground and seven total touchdowns.

Versatile Spark Plug

A.J Turner began his redshirt freshman season as the starter for the Gamecocks. While he eventually lost that spot to Dowdle, he was still counted on as a playmaker. His 70 -yard performance in the opener at Vanderbilt was key to South Carolina pulling off a last second victory. Turner is a smaller tailback, at just 5-10, 189 pounds, but he has a burst that makes him a great change of pace option. His speed was on full display on the first play against Texas A&M last year. He took the hand-off on a sweep, made it to the edge, and turned up field. Seventy-five yards later, he was in the end zone for a Gamecock touchdown. He racked up his only 100-yard game of the season that day, finishing with 113 yards on 10 carries.

Turner also found other ways to make plays in garnet and black. He finished the season with 21 receptions and 143 yards, to go along with his 497 yards on the ground. The diminutive tailback was also an effective kick-off returner, including an 80-yard return in his first ever play inside Williams-Brice Stadium.

Patiently Waiting

Sophomore Ty’Son Williams will finally get a chance to show his stuff this season. After sitting out last year, the transfer from North Carolina could be a big factor in South Carolina’s tailback rotation in 2017. As a freshman, the youngster from Sumter, SC played sparingly for the Tarheels with only 19 carries in 2015.

He has now been on campus in Columbia for over a year, and has created a buzz with his efforts in practice. Standing at 6-0, 209 pounds, he has the prototypical size for a running back. Williams should definitely find himself in the mix at tailback. His involvement would give the Gamecocks three solid options to hand the ball to.

Red Zone Weapon

Deebo Samuel will be looked at the carry South Carolina’s receiving core this season. The junior is the leading returner in catches and yards. Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper will also continue to use in him different ways. Samuel had only 15 carries last year, but six of them resulted in touchdowns. He proved to be tough to stop on the jet sweep; his speed and elusiveness allowed him to get to the edge and find his way to the end zone. The Gamecocks should have more pass catching options this season. This will allow Deebo to continue being used in a variety of ways.

Filling the Cupboard

Coach Will Muschamp was much maligned during his stint as the Florida Gators head man. His teams could never get things going on the offensive side of the ball. Things were set up for very similar results at South Carolina heading into his first year. By the end of the season, the Gamecocks had freshman and sophomores playing significant snaps at quarterback, tailback, and wide receiver. In one recruiting class, Coach Muschamp had stocked his skill positions with newcomers. The improvements made last year were a good first step, but the young tailbacks in Columbia will need to continue to grow if South Carolina wants to get back to contending in the SEC.

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