Call them what you want: bull yards, dirty yards, whatever. These are the yards a running back picks up after contact, the yards after someone grabs an ankle or attempts an arm tackle.
In a scheme so dependent on zone running, including South Carolina’s, those yards can turn a loss into a more comfortable second down, or a 3-yard run into a 7-yard gain. And it’s something the Gamecocks want more of, including from tailback A.J. Turner.
What does that take?
“Just running hard and being physical,” Turner said. “We’ve just been doing bag drills, the little chute things we have to run under. The blasters that we have to run through. In practice we always finish our runs.”
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The redshirt freshman leads the team with 300 yards, and at 4.4 per carry is has been terrifically boom-or-bust. On runs where he gets at least five yards, he averages 12.7 per carry. He’s only getting five yards on 26.5 percent of his carries.
Developing the skills to get those dirty yards comes in practice through some drills, but there’s also something built into a skillset because of certain limitations.
“We don’t take to the ground in practice,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said, “so running through contact was one of the evaluations you to look at when you evaluate a player coming out of high school. What kind of yards do they get? Does the pile move forward when they hit the pile?”
Muschamp pointed out that freshman tailback Rico Dowdle has been better in terms of getting those bull yards, busting through contact. When the team runs a zone read, it creates a lane, pulling a defensive end outside. But that lane closes quickly, and the ability to go hard and fall forward often means the difference between a shorter and longer run.
“There are no clean looks anymore in the running game,” Muschamp said. “When you talk about running a clean run box on defense, that’s hard to do. You’re going to be contested in the hole a lot. You’ve got to run through contact.”