Josh Kendall

Is South Carolina’s running back by committee approach working? The stats show this

Thomas Brown expects more from Gamecocks backs, explains philosophy

South Carolina Gamecocks running backs coach Thomas Brown breaks down what more he wants to see from his players, how coaching at Miami, Wisconsin helped him.
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South Carolina Gamecocks running backs coach Thomas Brown breaks down what more he wants to see from his players, how coaching at Miami, Wisconsin helped him.

It turns out that nobody is a big fan of “running back by committee” — even the committee.

“When I played we rotated four or five guys at a time. I was not a big fan of that,” new South Carolina running backs coach Thomas Brown said this week. “I don’t think anybody in the room was a big fan of that.”

Gamecocks fans certainly are getting a little tired of it.

South Carolina hasn’t had a true lead running back since Mike Davis gained 1,197 yards in 2013 and another 982 in 2014. Since that time, the Gamecocks have searched for a player who can carry the bulk of the load but had to settle for a group of running backs sharing the carries on a week-to-week basis — the clichéd “committee.”

It has been as effective as most committees. The Gamecocks haven’t finished higher than 10th in the SEC in rushing in the last four seasons.

In 2018, South Carolina had four junior running backs and head coach Will Muschamp said he considered them all starter quality. In fact, all four of them started at least one game at tailback but none of them had more than 123 carries or 654 yards.

Both of those marks were reached by Rico Dowdle, whose yardage total was the second-lowest among the SEC players who led their team in rushing. Only Tennessee’s Ty Chandler (630) had fewer yards while leading his team in rushing, and the Volunteers finished last in the league in rushing.

Alabama and Tennessee were the only teams in the conference whose leading rusher got a smaller percentage of the running back carries (based on distribution of the top four running backs on the team). Dowdle ended up with 37.8 percent of the running back carries based on the distribution among the top four. Mon Denson finished with 86 carries for 432 yards. Ty’Son Williams had 70 carries for 328 yards, and A.J. Turner had 46 carries for 294 yards.

All four will return in 2019, although Turner may play primarily defensive back. Brown has met his new running backs and said the playing rotation “depends on what those guys bring to the table.”

“Everything is going to be earned by every guy who’s on the football field for us,” said Brown, a former Georgia running back. “From personal experience, playing with three or four other NFL caliber running backs when I was playing, competition makes you better, every single day, understanding there are guys in the room just as good as you are who can take your spot every day.”

However Brown divides up the carries, the Gamecocks’ rushing total needs to add up to more. No team in the SEC has rushed for fewer total yards than South Carolina in the last three seasons.

The running game “is what the SEC is about,” Brown said. “I’m well-versed in this conference and you have to have a balanced running attack.”

Total rushing yards in SEC last three seasons

Alabama 10,160

Georgia 9,705

Mississippi State 9,176

Auburn 8,760

Texas A&M 7,624

LSU 7,752

Kentucky 7,738

Missouri 7,608

Florida 6,158

Arkansas 5,872

Tennessee 5,646

Vanderbilt 5,599

Ole Miss 5,369

South Carolina 5,321

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