South Carolina's rushing game, helmed by three rotating teeth with two backups always halfway installed into the flywheel, has improved over abysmal performances in the last two seasons. While the No. 25 Gamecocks don't have it quite where they want it to be -- it's not last in the SEC, but it's still in the bottom half of the league at ninth (157.4 yards per game) -- it seems to be on the upswing.
It gets a chance to really push itself into a consistent groove on Saturday. Opponent Kentucky has had its problems this year, but stopping the run seems to be the biggest one.
The Wildcats (2-2, 0-2 SEC) are giving up 190.2 rushing yards per game, over 30 yards of difference between them and 11th-place Vanderbilt (159.8). Kentucky is ranked 107th in the country at stopping the run.
It should be noted that the biggest statistics piled up against Kentucky have been No. 1 Florida (362 rushing yards) and No. 3 Alabama (204). It's why the Wildcats and some of the Gamecocks feel it won't be as simple as handing off 40 times for USC to have offensive success on Saturday.
"I think they were the top two teams in the SEC and in the nation," Kentucky defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. "I think we did really well. We just had a few mistakes, a few costly errors. If we can maybe take those back, the games would have been a whole lot closer."
"It definitely has to do with them playing Florida and Alabama," agreed USC right guard T.J. Johnson, who will be one of the ones charged with opening holes this week. "We started watching film on them (Monday) night. They're really not that bad. Up front they have a few guys that can really play."
The Gamecocks (4-1, 1-1) could be figuring they should test that right away.
USC's running game has stepped up, with Kenny Miles earning the starting spot with his mix of power, burst and ability to shed tackles. He scored his first career touchdown last week with a 22-yard shot through the heart of S.C. State's defense and is averaging an even 6 yards per carry.
Jarvis Giles is right behind Miles with 5.9 per carry, and is the team's leading rusher with 231 yards on 39 carries. He's the shiftiest of the backs and has become quite a photo opportunity every time he touches the ball, with his gold-tipped braids spilling from his helmet and flying in all directions.
The steady Brian Maddox is also around, not the No. 1 choice anymore but still a vital piece of the process. Maddox is more physical and can run defenders over more than the other two, which makes him an ideal goal-line back -- Maddox by far leads the team with five touchdowns this season.
USC has several options and will hand off to all three on Saturday. What remains to be seen is how much.
Kentucky's defense seems to be geared to allow the run, but without its two starting cornerbacks, Steve Spurrier may wish quarterback Stephen Garcia to challenge the Wildcats' secondary. Garcia has mostly been a sideline or over-the-middle passer this year, shucking the deep ball after the passes kept getting broken up or reversed on penalty, so the situation seems ideal to keep that streak going.
Yet Johnson further discussed how the numbers don't tell a completely accurate picture. The Wildcats' defense has had its problems, but so have a lot of other teams who have played the top two teams in the league.
"We're taking this game like we take all the games," Johnson said. "We have to be ready and prepared. We have to get that win. Being 5-1 going into Alabama would be a huge thing for us."
Johnson's words were echoed by most of the rest of his teammates.
"It excites me knowing that people have been rushing for big numbers against them and we have just as good a run game as just about everybody else," said fullback Patrick DiMarco, who has become a reliable weapon out of the backfield. "Looking forward to having a big week on the ground this week."
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