Redshirt senior running back Mario Anderson entered Saturday's matchup having received just eight carries all season. So when the opportunity came for Anderson to leave his mark against Mississippi State, he made the most of it.
“We felt like, going into it, that we knew Mario was going to play no matter who went out there first,” head football coach Shane Beamer said. “We're proud of him, and like all of our running backs as well, we feel like we got four really good ones … but certainly, Mario showed what he can do tonight.”
Anderson joined the program in the offseason after leaving Division II school Newberry. Anderson recorded over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his final two seasons at Newberry, creating optimism around the program that he could slide into South Carolina's vacated running back room.
Anderson was absent in the Gamecocks' first game against UNC, and against Furman, he got six of his carries and rushed for 32 yards. Against Georgia, he had just two touches for nine yards.
However, Anderson’s promise was on display in the game against Mississippi State on Saturday, as he wracked up 26 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 37-30 win.
“That’s just how we practice, very physical," Anderson said. Coach Beamer is heavy on physicality and everything, so the workload, it just came natural.”
Beamer said in his weekly media availability on Tuesday that South Carolina would look to establish its run better, so Anderson’s increase in touches makes sense. But he also affected the game in ways that didn’t require him to carry the ball.
Anderson made many key blocks that gave redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler time in the pocket to make throws, something Anderson said running backs coach Montario Hardesty focuses on teaching.
“He really prioritizes that for all of us,” Anderson said. “He really emphasizes that. Fit in the window, just shooting our hands and being real physical. So that’s every day because we got a guy like Spencer in the backfield, so we have to.”
Anderson’s touchdown wound up being the game-winning score and came after he bullied his way into the endzone from nine yards out. He ran into a defensive wall about three yards from the endzone but kept his legs moving and forced his way past the goal line.
“I just seen the O-line blocking, really, and just being able to run my feet, finish the drive and finish the play,” Anderson said. “I’m blessed to play with these guys. The O-line fights really hard.”
After the game, Beamer awarded Anderson a game ball for his performance. Anderson said the moment was special for him after his journey.
“That’s actually going up on the dresser,” Anderson said. “It meant a lot because a kid coming from D2, and everything that he’s allowed me to do and everything, and just being able to get the game ball from him, or one of the game balls from him, it meant a lot, and it was a very special moment.”
Anderson said that having a successful game does not allow him to take things any easier at practice. He said he still needs to go in every day and compete for his spot.
“I try to seize every opportunity possible,” Anderson said. “It’s still a lot of competition in the running back room. You can never be satisfied with a Swiss Army knife like DK and a guy like Juju, who can make anybody miss in space and everything, so the competition level is still through the roof. I've still got to bring it every day.”
Anderson and the Gamecocks will take the field next week in Knoxville for a game against Tennessee. Last season against the Volunteers, the Gamecocks rushed for 153 yards.