South Carolina (2-3, 1-3) struggled with first-half scoring in its first two games of 2016, but that issue — while not solved — isn’t as much of a headache as it once was.
On the first play from scrimmage against No. 9 Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0) on Saturday, the Gamecocks handed the ball to running back A.J. Turner, a redshirt freshman who proceeded to take the carry 75 yards for a touchdown. It took only 13 seconds for South Carolina to find the scoreboard in week five. The Gamecocks didn’t score again in the first half, but at least they threw a quick roundhouse punch, something they hadn’t done in September.
After the game, Turner met with the media and described how his explosive play unfolded against an otherwise stingy Aggie defense.
“First snap, we called Patriots, which is an outside play,” Turner said. “The line blocked really good– I give them credit for that. I just saw a hole, hit it and decided to cut it back. Then I saw a defender try to come get me while I was on their sideline, then I made another cut, made a play, scored.”
Turner, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 195-pounds, finished the contest with 113 rushing yards on 10 carries and made the most of his limited opportunities while executing a zone read attack. Turner also made the most of facing a Texas A&M defensive line without the assistance of Myles Garrett.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Turner said. “We’ve been practicing all week so it was just something to be expected.”
During the season’s first five games, Turner has shouldered most of the Gamecocks’ rushing workload and has eclipsed the 10-carry threshold all but once this year.
“I believe I’m always going to be ready for whatever the coaches have to throw at me,” Turner said.
“Whether I’m getting a lot of carries or getting a lot of passing during the week, we are always prepared for anything. [We] practice hard, are really physical and we play fast. We do tempo in practice, so I’m just ready for anything.”
Will South Carolina feature a backfield by committee?
Despite losing the battle with Texas A&M, one positive did emerge from the Gamecocks’ week five contest: another running back may have proven himself as a reliable option–Rico Dowdle. As a high schooler at A.C. Reynolds High, Dowdle scored 51 touchdowns in his time as a prep recruit. He brings a dangerous combination of athleticism and physical measurables to Columbia.
“I think he has a good balance of speed and size,” Turner said of Dowdle. “He definitely brings, he runs really hard, as you guys can tell. Just breaking a lot of tackles, and that’s something that we need. Someone that can make plays, make explosive plays so we can put the offensive in a great positions.”
Dowdle received his first in-game action of the season against Texas A&M, quickly going to work for 47-yards on 9 carries, good for an average of over 5-yards per carry. This production shined a light on what could be a successful one-two punch for South Carolina moving forward.
“[Dowdle] runs through contact,” Muschamp said. “He’s an explosive runner. A lot of times on that zone read, you’ve got that defensive end lagging down the line and you are able to get that punch and you are able to run through contact, that’s something you need. He’s got some strength in his body and lower body explosive power.”