This season, South Carolina tailback Rico Dowdle has put up numbers that stand out for a freshman, and for a player who missed half the year with an injury.
Considering that, his numbers Saturday were still eye-popping.
The freshman from Asheville toted the ball 21 times against Western Carolina, gaining an average of 10.8 yards per carry. He finished with 226 yards, the sixth-best single-game in Gamecock history.
“Rico, the more snaps he takes, the better he’s going to get,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s a very good football player. He runs through contact.
“He runs for daylight and he’s got good top-end speed. He is also a guy, as the game wears on, they get tired of tackling him.”
That’s the most yards for a Gamecocks runner since Marcus Lattimore had 246 against Navy in 2011.
Muschamp also credited the Gamecocks line, which blocked for 422 rushing yards on 56 carries. Dowdle has run for 684 yards and six touchdowns in seven games this season.
Both teams strugled on kick coverage. It benefitted USC when Deebo Samuel took a first-quarter kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, the program’s first kick-return score of the year.
“Everybody has an assignment,” Samuel said. “When everybody does their assignment, you see a big old hole and it opened up and I hit it.”
It bit the Gamecocks, as Western Carolina returned kickoffs to its own 46, South Carolina’s 46 and one 93 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. That play from Detrez Newsome involved a fake reverse, which irked Muschamp.
“The direction of the kick was an issue and we knew when they put (Kein Crossen) back at a wing position that there was the possibility of a reverse,” Muschamp said. “We had two guys chasing the reverse. They weren’t responsible for the reverse. It’s something we’ve practiced, we’ve gone over, we’ve gone over. Obviously we didn’t go over it enough.”
The Gamecocks turn their attention toward Clemson, and it was clear how important that game was to the players. USC has lost two in a row in the series after winning five consecutive meetings.
“I didn’t grow up with a great taste in my mouth about them guys up there,” offensive tackle Mason Zandi said. “I didn’t get a chance to play last year because of an injury, so we’re going to prepare the right way.”
▪ USC captains were Zandi, kicker Elliott Fry, Buck Darius English and defensive end Marquavius Lewis.
▪ Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst completed his second pass in as many tries this season, hitting quarterback Jake Bentley on a 12-yard throwback. Hurst joked his only goal was to keep Bentley from getting lit up.
▪ Western Carolina’s most prolific receiver, Spearman Robinson, went to high school with Lewis in Greenwood. Robinson had 105 yards, including a 57-yarder.
▪ South Carolina wore black jerseys with white pants and helmets.
▪ Attendance was 76,650