After Rico Dowdle had to be helped off the field at Williams-Brice Stadium, there was a bit of a pall in the building. The South Carolina tailback had authored one of his better statistical performances since 2016 and suddenly had the shadow of yet another injury.
He was spotted smiling after the game after he quickly went to the locker room, but injured players rarely speak to media after the game. Yet there he was, striding in and sitting down to alleviate that early concern.
“Just got rolled on,” Dowdle said. “Dude fell on me, ankle twisted up a little.”
Despite the tense moment in the game, he seemed relaxed and revitalized afterward. Dowdle and his backfield partner, Tavien Feaster, both seemed revitalized on the field one game after the worst showing of the year.
Dowdle took a sweep 15 yards on the opening play, and the Gamecocks rolled from there.
“He started it off,” Feaster said. “You see how he’s hitting the hole every game. You know he’s going to run hard, and that’s pushing me, that’s motivating me because when I get in there, I’ve got to do my thing.”
Dowdle posted 102 yards on 15 carries, while Feaster got 107 on his 15. The pair combined to score all three of USC’s touchdowns.
It was a week and rivalry where running the ball was placed on a pedestal. The Gamecocks ground game had fallen apart in every game Will Muschamp coached against UK. They were coming off a week where things never got going against Missouri.
The pair of 100-yard rushers was only the second in a game since 2014, and the previous two times it happened against FCS competition.
“The coaches tell us as running backs to get it going,” Dowdle said. “When you run the ball, it opens up our offense.”
“He motivates me,” Dowdle said of Feaster. “He pushes me to be better. I push him to be better. I think it’s working out pretty well.”
Their relationship is a new one, as Feaster only joined the team early in August. The Clemson graduate transfer was meant to bolster a backfield that had been unimpressive. South Carolina’s staff wanted a lead pair — Feaster was one part, and Dowdle stepped up as the other.
The two were good in the opener, excellent against FCS Charleston Southern and Dowdle put up a strong day against Alabama. But then came a trip to Missouri, when the pair had 14 carries for 31 yards.
A far cry from what they did Saturday.
“It was frustrating as a running back not been able to get it started,” Feaster said of the Missouri game. “Obviously the team is doing some things that wouldn’t allow us to run it and this week, you know, we kind of just went out there and imposed our will.”
That last part had been a point of some contention. With an RPO-heavy offense, opponents can dictate pass or run. At times, it seemed South Carolina couldn’t impose that will, couldn’t run when it needed to or wanted to.
It remains to be seen how that plays out long term, but for one night the Gamecocks had it rectified and looked revitalized.
“Like I told y’all at the beginning of the season, I think we have the chance to be a really good backfield,” Dowdle said. “Working off each other, there’s no dropoff.”