August 21, 2007

Dynamic duo of Boyd, Davis key running game

While Steve Spurrier often laments South Carolina's lack of execution in the passing game, typically he has nothing but praise for the running game.

USC returns its entire starting backfield from last season, starting with leading rushers Cory Boyd (823 yards in 2006) and Mike Davis (474 yards).

Together, the pair accounted for 63.7 percent (264 of 414) of the total carries and 69.1 percent (1297 of 1876 yards) of the rushing yards for USC in 2006.

Take away Syvelle Newton's numbers (330 yards on 86 carries), and those figures rise to 80.1 percent (264 of 328 carries) and 83.9 percent (1297 of 1546 yards).

Boyd and Davis dominated USC's running attack last season and, barring an unforeseen injury, should do so again.

Monday night, after another frustrating practice trying to get the passing offense untracked, Spurrier described Boyd and Davis in favorable terms as the only consistent components of USC's offense.

While Boyd, who's physical enough to grind out tough yards between the tackles and fast enough to outrace defenders to the corner, enters the season as the front-runner to claim the starting job.

Davis is in close pursuit trying to win back the starting job he held in 2005 while Boyd was suspended.

"There's a lot of competition back there with Cory Boyd and Mike Davis," Gillespie said. "Those guys come to practice every day to compete and get better as a group. It's good to have that from a maturing and competitive standpoint."

Boyd reached the century mark three times last season - 113 yards against Kentucky and Vanderbilt and 106 in the emotional win at Clemson.

But Boyd is also admired by Spurrier and Gillespie, and feared by opponents, for his ability to catch the football out of the backfield, collecting 35 receptions, tops among all SEC running backs, in 2006.

Boyd considered placing his name into the pot for last April's NFL Draft but he decided to return to school, making his coaches happy in the process.

"He has dedicated himself and wanted to come back and get a degree," Gillespie said. "He is motivated. He has some personal and team goals he wants to accomplish and he is really focused on us getting better."

One of the main goals for Davis this year is to get off to a strong start. He's started slowly in both of his first two seasons before shifting into high gear late in the season.

In 2006, he had 36 total rushing yards on 18 carries in the first three games before finishing with a flourish, averaging 78.3 yards over his last three contests. He had a pair of TD runs against Clemson, including one where he went airborne, spun around and managed to keep his feet as he tumbled into the end zone.

The 28-year old Gillespie, who replaced Madre Hill as running backs coach following the 2005 season, knows he's blessed to have a pair of running backs like Boyd and Davis, who have been compared favorably to Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas.

"We're going to try find as many ways as we can to get those guys into the game," Gillespie said. "Both of them are really good backs who could be number one at a lot of SEC schools. So, to have two guys like that, we're very fortunate. Coach Spurrier is an offensive mastermind and he's going to find a lot of ways to get those guys into the game."

Last year's reserves, Bobby Wallace and Taylor Rank, are both currently sidelined by injuries. Wallace suffered a broken clavicle in his shoulder while being tackled in practice and won't return until the S.C. State game on Sept. 15 at the earliest.

"He was doing great (before the injury) and it was unfortunate he got hurt, but hopefully he'll only be out a few more weeks and then he'll be able to come back and help us," Gillespie said.

Rank, meanwhile, has been held out of practice with an injured shoulder. His magical moment of the 2006 season came in the Florida Atlantic game when he filled in for Boyd by rushing for 101 yards on 15 carries, becoming the first Gamecock running back to reach the century mark last season.

"He's a good athlete, a very strong kid," Gillespie said. "We just want to find a way to get (Rank) on the field. But he's been dinged up with a bad shoulder"

When he's been able to practice, Rank has seen some action at fullback, too.

"We do have some guys banged up but we've got some guys who have been in the offense for a couple of years, so we feel real good about that," Gillespie said.

Their misfortune has opened the door for freshman Brian Maddox to move to No. 3 on the depth chart with a series of impressive scrimmage performances.

Maddox, listed at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, rushed for 1,750 yards and 18 touchdowns last year for T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, S.C.

"Brian is really looking good," Gillespie said. "He's pushing hard for playing time. He's big and has a lot of speed. We're excited about Brian."

The fullback position features three scholarship players - Lanard Stafford, a former walk-on lineman, redshirt freshman Clark Gaston and true freshman Patrick DiMarco - and walk-on Bryan Kingrey.

Ryan Brown, who spent a part of spring practice at fullback, has switched back to defensive end.

"The fullback is like the toe on the foot, sometimes it goes unappreciated but without it we could not function," Gillespie said. "Those guys are unselfish. They do all the dirty work and the pretty guys at tailback get all the attention. As a group, the coaches and team understand the importance of those guys."

Stafford, one of Spurrier's favorite players, caught three passes last season but has yet to take a handoff in two seasons at fullback. It could happen this season for the electrical engineering major from Hemingway, S.C.

"He will tell you, 'I don't want to carry it,'" Gillespie said. "He's a very humble kid and he's really done a good job catching the ball. Hopefully, we can get him a pass where he can score a TD this year."

Stafford has some brawn to go along with his brains. He can squat 590 pounds, the top mark on the team.

"He's a very smart kid and he works hard and keeps the backfield going," Gillespie said. "He is the epitome of the attitude that you want your fullback to have. He is a team guy. I'm glad I've got a fullback that is smart."

Gaston graduated from high school in December of 2005 and enrolled at USC the following January. Left shoulder surgery cut short his 2006 season.

"He's looking good, but he has a lot to learn," Gillespie said. "Fortunately we have a senior fullback, so he can kind of learn the role along with Pat DiMarco. We now have several guys who can see exactly what we want and be able to learn from a veteran fullback."



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