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September 21, 2013

Wilds piling up yards too

A quick look at the stats and some number crunching will tell you that Brandon Wilds has gotten roughly 35 percent of South Carolina's tailbacks' carries this season. A few more clicks of the calculator and you might conclude that Mike Davis, who has picked up 62.5 percent of the carries, is the team's lone starter at the position. But don't tell that to Wilds.

"We're doing more two-back sets now, so you'll see a lot more of me," said Wilds after practice Wednesday. "[The carries] are pretty even now. Whoever's hottest at the time gets the ball."

Wilds says he and fellow sophomore Davis continue to push each other in practice every day. Though they compete everyday for playing time, their relationship is just as strong as Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson's, Wilds said.

"It's friendly competition. We both know how the system works, so it's nothing personal," said Wilds, who later added, "Hopefully I'm the every-down back too."

USC running backs coach Everett Sands says he likes what he's seen out of Wilds this season. Wilds has piled up 184 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, though he's done it all in Davis' shadow.

But Sands says Wilds' proportion of the carries hasn't been low because of skill, but rather play-calling.

"The runs just haven't been called as much when he was in the game," Sands said. "It could very easily be like the first week, when [the carries were split] 12-12."

After carrying the ball 107 times for 486 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, Wilds missed last season with a high ankle sprain. He said he used the time off to get quicker and faster and to learn the offense, and it all appeared to pay off against Vanderbilt as he played a major role in the passing game.

Wilds, who only had 16 career receptions coming into the game, caught five passes for 65 yards and a touchdown to help USC win 35-25.

"It felt good catching the ball," Wilds said. "I did it a lot my freshman year, so I'm getting back to it. I enjoy it."

But Wilds isn't content to make a living off of dumpoff passes. He prefers taking handoffs, and says he wants to be an integral part of USC's rushing game.

"It's just a running back feeling. The feeling of being between the tackles, it's nothing like anything else," Wilds said.

Sands, who played running back at The Citadel in the '90s and ranks second in school history with 3,926 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns, agreed that the 223-pound Wilds has found a niche running up the middle.

"He's a guy that's big enough and physical enough that you can run him between the tackles," Sands said. "But he's also a guy that's fast enough that you can put him on the edge."

Wilds says his skill set combines nicely with Davis', and that he believes the current group of running backs to be the best he's seen in three years at USC.

"We all bring something different to the table," Wilds said.

And Wilds will look to take those talents with him when the Gamecocks travel to take on UCF next Saturday. Wilds says USC won't take the Golden Knights lightly after they beat Penn State last weekend.

But the sophomore's eyes lit up when he mentioned that UCF's defense doesn't like to load the box in its four-two system. And against a defense that lines up just two linebackers the middle of the field - and close to the line of scrimmage, at that - Wilds likes his chances of having a big game.

"We should run a lot this game," he said with a smile. But if the recent past tells us anything about the future, the ball will find its way into Wilds' hands whether USC runs it or not.

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