The arc of Mon Denson’s season has been one of, not exactly disappointment, but certainly some struggle.
The arc of the junior South Carolina tailback’s last game was one of satisfaction, doing his job and contributing to an important win.
There’s some contrast, and perhaps that’s the life of a fourth- and sometimes third-string tailback. He hadn’t touched the ball before the eighth drive against Tennessee. He hadn’t touched the ball in nearly a month, owing to a hamstring injury that cost him four of the first seven games.
But he had faith his number would eventually be called.
“I knew I was going to play,” Denson said. “I just have to make sure I’m ready to go in whenever he calls my number.”
The 5-foot-10, 212-pound bowling ball of a back went right at a tired Volunteers defense. He followed a pulling guard for 6 yards, then dodged a blitzing corner for five more. After a penalty, he tore past a safely for nine yards and then blew through a pair of tackle attempts for 12.
By the end of the drive, he’d gained 30 yards of a 50-yard march for what proved to be the game-winning field goal.
The USC offense had been rotating Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams to great effect, but in a tied game, it turned elsewhere for a specific reason.
“He deserved the opportunity because of the way he’s practiced,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s had a tough time with the hamstring. It’s been frustrating for him. It’s been frustrating for us.
“Given the opportunity, you’ve got to produce. … And he produced extremely well.”
Denson has gone through some things through his USC career.
He was taken over Williams out of high school (Williams went to UNC and then transferred), and redshirted as a true freshman. He didn’t play a game as a sophomore, a spot where many players simply get counted out.
Instead he stepped up as a reserve back in 2017, occupying the No. 3 role, and sometimes No. 2, after Dowdle got hurt. But Denson missed last spring with a knee, and the hamstring limited him most of the start of this year.
“It’s been bothering me, ups and downs,” Denson said. “Battling through the hamstring, it’s a tendon. It’s just a nagging injury that just comes back and back.”
For the moment, he seems to have it under control. He feels healthy, and that gives USC more options, especially with a concussion sidelining A.J. Turner of late.
Other players have seen what Denson is going through, and have a healthy level of respect for not only how he came through, but how he came up big when it mattered.
“Mon’s very talented,” Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. “And it’s been unfortunate some of the things he’s had to battle through, but it’s been impressive as well to see how much he’s mentally been able to handle everything and to stay positive and stay encouraging his teammates, other running backs, and be able to help us. He did a great job coming in there and gave us a spark.”