Will Muschamp’s team had a long two weeks to stew on the loss to Georgia. The storms brought on by Hurricane Florence led to the cancellation their week three match-up with Marshall. During the midweek build up, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said the game would be a street fight. The South Carolina Gamecocks’ rushing attack came out swinging to the tune of 273 yards and three touchdowns in Nashville. It was only their third game over 200 yards rushing since Muschamp took over in 2016. Balance is such an important part of a productive offense, and Jake Bentley and company had everything going last Saturday.
After the loss to the Bulldogs, coaches admitted that they abandoned the run a little too quickly. They knew they would need to make it more of a focus going forward. Then they were given the extra motivation of hearing Coach Mason challenge them with his street fight comment. The Gamecocks’ rushing attack responded with its best effort in quite some time. One performance doesn’t put those questions about the running game to bed. However, it was an impressive statement to go on the road in the SEC and run the ball that well.
Gamecocks’ Rushing Attack
Keeping It 100
For the second time in three games, Rico Dowdle eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground. He now has five such games in his career. The junior from Asheville had 112 yards on 20 carries and scored on a two-yard run. The Gamecocks’ rushing attack is a group effort, but Dowdle is beginning to stand out in a crowded backfield. He has a good combination of power and agility, allowing him to make guys miss while also being able to put his head down and get the tough yards. Each of Carolina’s first two drives began with a run by Dowdle. He gained 15 and 20 yards respectively to open those possessions. Establishing the run early in drives helped Bentley find some open receivers downfield. In turn, challenging the defense deep early in the game helped open running lanes, as the Commodore defense couldn’t just load the box.
Dowdle looks to have taken hold of the lead tailback spot, but he will need to remain consistent. He followed up his 105-yard performance in the season opener with a dud the next week versus Georgia. Reliability in production and availability, as the junior has struggled with injuries all three seasons in garnet and black, is paramount to the success of the Gamecocks’ rushing attack. Dowdle also needs to hold on to the ball better; he had a few drops in the pass game and a fumble near the goal line this season. His play-making ability at tailback was missed as he battled injuries last season, so it’s good to have him back grinding up yards.
While Dowdle seems to have a hold on the starting spot, South Carolina has a talented group behind him ready to make the most of their carries. Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner have both shown their mettle when called upon. Williams is second on the team with 156 yards on the ground, and has added four catches for 31 yards. The transfer from UNC is averaging 5.3 yards per carry since his move to Columbia last season. He has a bit more burst to get the ball around the edge, as evident by his 22-yard run late in the game. He finished off that drive with a Brandon Bennett-like leap over the line for a touchdown.
Turner is a smaller back, but he runs hard when he gets the ball. His 7.6 yards per carry this season leads the team. Like Dowdle he also had a fumble late in the game. It was unfortunate because it came on a big run up the middle; the Vanderbilt defender did a good job of punching the ball out as he made the tackle. Turner has over 1,000 career rushing yards, so the Gamecocks know they have viable options behind Dowdle to help the running game. Mon Denson is still recovering from a hamstring injury, but he will also factor in as the power back of the group. He scored on a short touchdown run in the 3rd quarter.
Along The Line
The tailbacks all did their part to propel the Gamecocks’ rushing attack to its best performance so far this season. The offensive line also came up big. The interior of the line was particularly effective, opening holes on the both the power and the inside zone plays. Controlling the line of scrimmage is crucial, and South Carolina took care of business in Nashville. Senior Zach Bailey, junior Donnell Stanley, and sophomore Sadarius Hutcherson took the street fight comments personally. They went out on the field and proved a point, opening up holes all game long. Doing it one game is great, but to have the season they want, the offensive line needs to impose its will every week. The Gamecocks’ rushing attack needs to back up this performance with another good week at Kentucky.
Everyone knows about the four-game losing streak to the Kentucky Wildcats. In three of the four losses, South Carolina has been outworked and out-muscled physically. It’s safe to say that this week’s game will once again be determined along the line of scrimmage. The Gamecocks’ rushing attack will need to bring its hard hat again this week. South Carolina mustered only 54 yards on the ground a season ago in their loss to the Wildcats. Taking the challenge personally again this week is a necessity.
The battle at the line of scrimmage will be crucial this week. Carolina needs to remain balanced on offense, and be able to convert on short yardage situations. Controlling the clock and keeping Kentucky’s star tailback Benny Snell on the sidelines will also be a big factor. There will be a lot of attention payed to Snell, who has been extremely impressive this season. Dowdle, Williams, and Turner will have a chance to show the SEC that he isn’t the only explosive tailback playing in Lexington on Saturday.
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