College Sports

USC ran all over Kentucky, but can it do it vs. Georgia? Gamecocks accept challenge

Before every South Carolina football game, sixth-year senior center Donell Stanley writes the same thing on a board. The message is only three words, and it’s only intended for the Gamecock offensive linemen.

Run the yard.

“So that’s what we pride ourselves on,” said guard Eric Douglas.

The message’s purpose is to set a physical mindset of dominating an opponent in the trenches. It was carried out to near perfection Sept. 28 against Kentucky.

USC bulldozed through the Wildcats to the tune of 247 rushing yards — the second-most against a Power 5 opponent in the Will Muschamp era — as the Gamecocks rolled to a 24-7 win at Williams Brice-Stadium.

Kentucky entered that game near the bottom of the SEC in rushing defense and South Carolina took advantage. Two weeks later, USC (2-3, 1-2 SEC) travels to face No. 3 Georgia (5-0, 2-0).

The Bulldogs are near the top of the nation in rushing defense. They haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season.

Chances the Gamecocks run the yard in Athens?

“Just the game plan that we got set,” Douglas said, “I feel like the game plan (offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon) has in store will benefit the run game. Hopefully we will have another successful game.”

South Carolina, at 203 a week, is 39th nationally in rushing yards per game. It hasn’t finished a season in the top 40 of the category since 2013. Its average finish under Muschamp is 104. Reasons for improvement in 2019 are a talented addition (Tavien Feaster from Clemson), a senior having a career year (Rico Dowdle) and a deeper, more athletic offensive line.

Take away a bad afternoon at Missouri — 16 yards on 24 carries — and USC is averaging over 250 rushing yards a game.

“We want to be able to run the football and stay balanced offensively,” Muschamp said Tuesday. “I think it’s really important to have balance offensively because when we get one-dimensional in our league against the schedule we have, it’s going to be very difficult to move the football if you’re just running all the time or throwing all the time. So to be able to create balance is really important. That’s something we want to be able to do.”

It’s imperative, said Douglas.

“A lot of us in the room, we pride ourselves pretty much on the run game,” Douglas said. “Without the run game, we got to rely on (dropping) back 50-something times passing. That’s not ideal in this league. So the focus of our room, our identity, is running the ball.”

Finding balance against the Bulldogs this season has been a difficult task. Vanderbilt is the only UGA opponent to rush and pass for over 100 yards in a game, a contest the Commodores lost by 24 points.

Georgia has allowed a total of 298 rushing yards over five games. Dowdle (370) has more. Feaster (290) isn’t far behind.

“Every week we’re coming out and facing a good defense,” Dowdle said. “This is just another obstacle we’re going to have to face. Definitely a challenge that will be accepted. ... We’re looking forward to it.”

Since Kirby Smart went from Alabama defensive coordinator to Georgia head coach in 2016, South Carolina hasn’t gained more than 54 yards against the Bulldogs on the ground.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” said left tackle Sadarius Hutcherson. “Watching film on these guys, they play physical, they play hard, they run to the ball.”

NEXT

Who: South Carolina (2-3, 1-2 SEC) at No. 3 Georga (5-0, 2-0 SEC)

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

TV: ESPN

Line: Georgia by 24.5

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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