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September 12, 2013
At Steve Spurrier's preseason media golf outing in late July, running backs coach Everette Sands sat a table and spoke to reporters for what must have been close to an hour talking about his excitement about his running back group, their quick 40 times and how he believed he truly had some breakaway threats in his backfield.
Following back-to-back games with 75-yard runs - the first time a single back has had 75-yard runs both back-to-back and in a USC career in school history and the longest runs since Bobby Wallace ran for 88 yards in 2006 - Mike Davis has opened people's eyes, including Spurrier's, who said Tuesday no one knew how explosive he really was until he got behind the North Carolina defense and was gone.
One person did - Sands.
"I knew he had the quickness, the power," Sands said. "I knew he'd done a great job working. He'd gotten faster.
"I saw a big difference in Mike from the end of the season (2012) to spring ball," Sands said. "You could see the confidence he built from spring ball to the beginning of the season. Now, that's grown even more, not just running the ball, but having a good grasp of our offense."
How many more depends on a number of factors, one of which is what the role continues to be between Davis and Wilds in terms of splitting carries. On Tuesday, Spurrier wouldn't say Davis would get any more carries than he had been, and on Wednesday, Sands echoed that.
"No, not really. Last week, I expected him to get more plays. Last week it was 38 to 24 plays (Davis to Wilds). We just didn't run the ball a lot when Brandon was in there. I'm not sitting there (during a game) going, 'OK, he got this many runs,' I'm just trying to make sure they get pretty close."
Another factor is how often quarterback Connor Shaw rushes the ball on his own. For the second straight game, Shaw ended-up with as many rushing attempts (16) as Davis. Sands would like for that not to be the case, ideally.
"Only 12 of those were called runs for Connor," Sands said. "Four were scrambles. Some of those runs could have come to the running backs, and that's when Brandon was in, on a couple of those."
What can't be ignored is how well Davis has performed, ranking No. 12 nationally in rushing yards (132.0 yards per game) through two games and fourth in the SEC behind Arkansas' Alex Collins (151.5), Georgia's Todd Gurley (143.0) and Arkansas' Jonathan Williams (138.5). He's emerged, in just two games, as one of the nation's best at the position.
"He has done a great job," Sands said. "The big thing I talk about is just getting better. One of our goals is to be one of the best running back units in the country."
Another area Davis has excelled in is in the lack of lost-yardage plays. Through two games, Davis has only lost one yard - the fourth-and-1 option pitch call that had the internet howling in disgust. Sands said he's made a point in practice of drilling into his players that lost-yardage plays aren't acceptable.
"One of the goals we talked about this year was to get rid of the negative-yardage plays," Sands said. "That's something I have my guys conscious of. We want to make sure that the worst-case scenario, we get back to the line of scrimmage.
"We don't want to do any of this turn around, try to make something big happen. We had some plays like that last year. Things aren't going well, a guy tries to reverse field, so we talk about those things.
It's a physical thing and something they have to be conscious of. We constantly talk about running behind our pads. One of my thoughts is to that if I cannot avoid contact, I want to initiate it. When I initiate the contact I want to run behind my pads. I think overall our guys have done a good job."
But what about that fourth-and-inches play? Would Sands have liked to have seen something else called?
"We made the call and one of the things that happened on that play was the defensive end got his hands on the tackle (Brandon Shell) and he didn't get to the linebacker," Sands said. "If he gets to that linebacker, now we're one-on-one with a guy and we can get into the end zone.
"If we could pull it back we probably would and call something differently, but that play could definitely work in that situation. The circumstances just didn't allow that to happen."
After two games and two 75-yard runs from Davis, Sands' expectations going forward are simple.
"I'm ready to see some more long runs."
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