South Carolina’s annual spring game was just about perfect — nice weather, a trick play and a dramatic decrease in interceptions from a year ago — right up to the end.
On what turned out to be the final play, starting receiver Dion LeCorn injured his left leg on Jarvis Giles’ second touchdown run Saturday in the Garnet’s 30-14 victory against the Black before an announced crowd of 25,157 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
As the medical staff tended to LeCorn, USC coach Steve Spurrier called the game with 55 seconds remaining. Spurrier said LeCorn might have cracked a bone in his lower leg when Giles and a defender fell on the back of his ankle.
LeCorn had tears in his eyes while his leg was immobilized and he was carted off the field. Giles said players prayed for LeCorn in the locker room.
“Hopefully, it won’t be a terrible injury,” Spurrier said.
LeCorn’s injury aside, it was a productive day for the Gamecocks’ offense.
Giles rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns, Stephen Garcia completed 13 of 20 passes for 144 yards and two scores, and the quarterbacks combined for one interception — seven fewer than the 2008 spring game.
After finishing last in the SEC in rushing the past two seasons, Spurrier put the running attack at the top of his spring cleaning list. Improvement was evident Saturday as the Gamecocks’ top four tailbacks — Brian Maddox, Giles, Eric Baker and Kenny Miles — combined for 254 yards on 35 carries, an average of 7.3 yards per rush.
And though a lot of the yardage came in the second half with many of the defensive starters on the bench, Spurrier is encouraged about the ground game.
“We have a lot better chance with the running game than maybe we did at this time last year. The line needs to get better. They need to block a little more aggressively,” Spurrier said. “We have a little different scheme of runs. Hopefully, the guys will block better than they once did.”
New offensive line coach Eric Wolford has widened the linemen’s splits, and the Gamecocks are calling more one-back runs out of the shotgun — a scheme Wolford and first-year quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus have used elsewhere.
The formation allows tailbacks to get the ball a little deeper in the backfield.
“That helps, too,” Maddox said. “It helps set up things and helps for us to see things.”
Maddox, who appears to have won the starting job, had a quiet day Saturday with 22 yards on seven carries. But the sophomore from Anderson would rather make a splash in the fall.
Last year Maddox ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game but didn’t eclipse 90 yards for the season until the Clemson game in late-November.
While Maddox sat the second half, Giles and Miles (12 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown) carved up the second- and third-team defenses. Giles, the freshman from Tampa, Fla., who enrolled in January, took a while to get used to the crowd, saying he never played in front of more than 1,500 fans in high school.
“I ain’t going to lie. I was a little nervous coming out in front of all those fans,” Giles said. “I think it got to me in the first half. But I got a lot more comfortable as the game went on and just balled-out toward the end.”
Giles had the longest play of the day — a 39-yard gain on an inside handoff — and scored on runs of 17 and 14 yards in the final two minutes. Miles added runs of 14, 15 and 22 yards, while Baker broke off a 35-yard rush to set up Miles’ 1-yard score.
But Maddox believes he will begin preseason camp as the starter, although he said the young backs deserve carries, too.
“They needed that. They really did need to go out there and play good today, and they did,” he said. “I’m very happy for them.”
The backs will be even happier if the holes are there in the fall.