COLUMBIA Minus Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, South Carolinas football program sure looked like it had a playmaker void entering this season.
Running back Mike Davis and receiver Nick Jones offer evidence to the contrary.
The 13th-ranked Gamecocks have issues entering Saturdays home game against Vanderbilt (7 p.m., ESPN), but those issues are on defense. Davis is doing most everything Lattimore did, and Jones is starting to fill the void Sanders left.
In two starts this season, Davis has rushed for 264 yards, a stunning 9.4 yards per carry. In each of those games, a victory against North Carolina and a loss at Georgia, Davis had a 75-yard run.
He isnt quite as adept running inside as Lattimore, who constantly fell forward for extra yardage, but hes getting there.
Probably his most impressive run was that touchdown (a 3-yarder vs. Georgia), coach Steve Spurrier said. Three guys were ready for him, and he ran over all of them. That was a Marcus Lattimore run.
The difference between Lattimore, now with San Francisco 49ers, and Davis is Davis has more explosive potential to break a huge play. That came as a surprise to everyone, including his offensive line.
He brings a different style of running, right guard Ronald Patrick said. The way he plays is amazing. He has some wheels on him.
Opponents are still sizing up how to defend him. A factor in those 75-yard runs was the Tar Heels and Bulldogs underestimating how quickly he accelerates, resulting in bad tackling angles.
If you want to take a bad angle on me, Ill outrun you, Davis said Tuesday.
That was less about bad scouting than a lack of exposure. Even South Carolinas coaches were surprised by Davis explosion.
Mikes speed is something we didnt know, Spurrier said. We didnt know about it until he got ahead of North Carolinas guys.
Jones was a bit of an afterthought. He played with Lattimore at Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., and always seemed to be in his shadow. A diminutive 5-foot-7, hes easily dismissed. But he caught six passes against the Bulldogs for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Thats some of what the Gamecocks got last year from Sanders, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Nicky is in better shape, Spurrier said. Youd think a guy 5-foot-7 wouldnt need to lose weight but he needed to lose weight. Now hes in tip-top shape.
Jones has compensated for his lack of height with precision.
Im not the tallest guy, so Im not going to go over everybody to make catches, Jones said. So Ive got to get into my routes.
Theres also a little-man pluck about Jones that wears well.
Ive been overlooked since my high school days, Jones said. I didnt want to be seen as just Marcus Lattimores teammate.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129
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