Bryan McClendon on what South Carolina’s new running back coach brings to the table
Each of the past two seasons, the South Carolina football team has come into the season touting the depth it had at running back with three or four options.
Each season, the ground game has been found lacking.
Now, with a new running backs coach, that plan is out the window. Two backs are in.
“Trying to play three a game is way too much,” offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon said. “It’s kind of hard for a guy to get into a rhythm, hard for a guy to get into the flow of running the ball and kind of reading a defense and feeling how people are tackling him.”
That’s in lockstep with what running backs coach Thomas Brown has been preaching. The Gamecocks are looking to finally get their ground game going in Will Muschamp’s fourth season.
South Carolina has veterans Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson and A.J. Turner, the latter of whom has dabbled on defense. The young players include Deshaun Fenwick, Lavonte Valentine (running track at the moment and promising early enrollee Kevin Harris.
From that group, the coaches want to winnow things down.
“What we want to do is be able to narrow it down going into a game and say, ‘All right man, these are the two guys we’re going to rely on.’” McClendon said. “You would like it to be the same two guys.”
The Gamecocks have rolled through bodies in the backfield as injuries have hit Dowdle, Denson and Turner at various points. Five players led the team in rushing in one game or another.
McClendon lamented what that did to the running game, having to “throw another guy into the mix and another guy into the mix.”
Last year’s team averaged 4.5 yards a carry, an improvement from 4.0 and 3.7 the previous two seasons. But the staff gave much of the credit for that to the line, often demanding more tackle breaking and play-making from the backs.
If experience is a factor, Dowdle and Denson are likely the top two contenders, given how the staff lowered Turner’s workload and is letting him moonlight on defense. But the coaches say who gets those coveted two spots rests on something simple.
“A lot of it is up to those guys,” McClendon said.