Josh Kendall

Small group carrying big load for South Carolina offense

After searching for more than half a season to find offensive playmakers, South Carolina is not going to complain, but the truth is the Gamecocks could use a few more.

The ascension of freshman running back Rico Dowdle and the improved health of wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards has been a boon for the South Carolina offense. USC is averaging 24 points per game in the last four games after averaging 20 points per game in the first six. Its rushing yards per game (142.3 compared to 92.3) and total yards per game (351 compared to 304.5) have increased in the same time frame.

That surge has masked, at least for now, that South Carolina’s offense has become almost completely reliant on a small group of players. Dowdle, Samuel, Edwards and tight ends Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby have accounted for 1,166 of the Gamecocks 1,404 total yards in the last four games. That’s an astounding 79.5 percent.

For the season, South Carolina is last in the SEC in scoring (18 points per game) and next-to-last in total yardage (323.1 per game). The Gamecocks take on Western Carolina (2-8 overall, 1-7 SEC) at 4 p.m. Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium.

“I think you probably need more people, especially with the league we play in,” junior running back David Williams said. “People get beat up every play. As you saw Saturday, people were getting injured left and right so you have to be prepared.”

Dowdle and Samuel alone have gained 58.3 percent of the team’s total yards in the last four games. Samuel has 367 yards receiving and 50 yards rushing, while Dowdle has 381 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards (819 total for both).

“I think we have the right guys in the right spots,” quarterback Perry Orth said. “They have been making plays.”

While that is true, it would be nice for someone else to step up at times, too.

“You can’t have eight guys on the field to target, but is good to have eight guys or so you can count on,” Orth said. “It’s always good to have subs.”

For the season, South Carolina has three running backs – Dowdle, Williams and redshirt freshman A.J. Turner – with at least 50 carries. They have five players with 15 or more receptions, and Samuel and Edwards are the only wide receivers in the group.

“You go into every season saying, ‘OK, at this position who do we feel good about winning an SEC East Championship? Who can go and win some of the games?’ ” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said, “and to be honest if a guy can really help us. I don’t know that we put a number on that.”

He then tried to put some numbers on it – settling on eight offensive linemen, three running backs, four tight ends and five wide receivers.

“I think schematically you change those numbers based on what you’re doing,” Muschamp said.

The challenge for the Gamecocks moving into the final two games of the regular season and into the 2017 season will be finding more players who can contribute in their system.

Game info

Who: Western Carolina at South Carolina

When: 4 p.m., Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

TV: SEC Network Alternate

Radio: 107.5 FM

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