The Daily Gamecock

Running wild: Backs ready to carry Gamecock offense

The Gamecocks have big shoes to fill at the running back position for this year's season. 

Mike Davis served as the primary tailback for the Gamecocks last year, rushing for 982 yards and 4.9 yards per carry while scoring nine touchdowns. Davis opted for the NFL draft instead of returning for his senior season and the San Francisco 49ers snagged him in a 4th round draft selection.

With Davis gone, the coaching staff is expected to turn to fifth-year senior Brandon Wilds and redshirt sophomore David Williams as the primary running backs this upcoming season. Redshirt senior Shon Carson is listed third on the depth chart and will also rotate in as a change-of-pace back.

Wilds enters this season with 1,277 career rushing yards on 256 carries, five yards per carry and has made 11 career starts. Five of those starts came during his freshman year in 2011 when a slew of injuries vaulted Wilds, then a fifth-string running back, into starting duties. He performed admirably in his five starts, highlighted by a 137-yard performance against Tennessee.

After spending the last three seasons as a backup, Wilds is relishing this opportunity to play as a starter in 2015.

“I want it bad,” Wilds said at South Carolina’s media day. “Coming out from last season and the season before it, playing here for a while, I’m just ready to be that guy. Ready to just show everybody what I have to bring to the table.”

Wilds rushed for 570 yards on 106 carries and scored five touchdowns last season, four rushing and one receiving. His 5.4 yards per carry actually bested the 4.9 yards per carry that Davis posted. If he can maintain that level of production as a starter, the transition from Davis to Wilds should be a smooth one.

Running back coach Everette Sands agrees.

“I think he wants it a lot,” Sands said. “His practice performance up to this point has been great. You can see him being explosive, just running down the field, finishing all his runs. It’s really important to him.”

The coaching staff is also enamored with the potential of redshirt sophomore David Williams; he is expected to split carries with Wilds in what should be a run-emphasized offense. Williams, a former four-star recruit from Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia, rushed for 256 yards on 45 carries with 5.7 yards per carry and two touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.

Competition between Williams and Wilds has been intense since the spring, when Williams was named the most improved running back by the coaching staff. Williams has a speed edge over Wilds and flashed big play potential last season whenever he got outside the perimeter. At 6-foot-1, 222 pounds, Williams also has the size and strength to be an effective downhill runner.

It's easy to envision Williams one day monopolizing the bulk of the carries in the Gamecocks offense, but, for now, he is expected to complement Brandon Wilds.

Ultimately, the coaching staff enters the season expecting big things from both of their primary running backs. Head coach Steve Spurrier doesn't think there will be much of a drop off in the Gamecocks running back production in 2015.

"We have confidence that both those players are very good and ready to play," Spurrier said.

Especially early in the season, the Gamecocks will lean heavily on their running game to ease the pressure off first-year starting quarterback Connor Mitch. Establishing a strong rushing attack will be crucial to the Gamecocks' success on offense in 2015. Wilds and Williams appear ready for the challenge.