KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Fullback, huh?
Brandon Wilds proved his talents and shut up all of the "experts" that doubted what he could do on the college field in one smooth motion on Saturday, spearheading No. 14 South Carolina's 14-3 win at Tennessee. In a situation that was almost designed to fail - and one that not many could pin on him if it had - Wilds more than filled the sizable gap left by injured star runner Marcus Lattimore.
Hardly seeming winded afterward, sitting in his chair with a diamond stud flashing from each ear and his gold chain casually draped around his neck and over his T-shirt, Wilds shrugged and said what he's said all season. He never liked all of the analysts saying he was too big to be a tailback, and especially disliked everyone saying he would be better off redshirting.
Saturday was his chance, and he took it. To the tune of 137 rushing yards and 31 more through the air, Wilds held that chance as tightly as he held the football during the 31 times he was given it.
"I worked hard, all thoughout my summer," Wilds said, still as soft-spoken as ever when he had every right to stand on the top deck of Neyland Stadium with a flashing neon sign reading "TOLD you." "I just worked hard. Being behind the best kind of wears off on me."
Make no mistake, the Gamecocks miss Lattimore. Like it was shown last year, when Lattimore is not in the game, the offense stalls. USC was again rather sickly on offense against Tennessee, but saw something right away.
The Gamecocks' first offensive play was Connor Shaw finding Wilds underneath for a dump-off pass. Wilds caught and rumbled for 9 yards.
"There's something here," coach Steve Spurrier and the fans camped into Neyland's cavernous stands thought.
Wilds kept producing and USC, after a few hit-and-misses, finally shucked all pretense and kept giving the freshman the ball. Wilds averaged 4.9 yards per carry and after D.J. Swearinger intercepted Justin Worley on the Gamecocks' 2-yard-line, USC put the game away.
USC embarked on a 20-play, 98-yard drive that ended in Shaw's 5-yard scoring burst, marking the final tally of the game. On the drive, Wilds rushed 11 times, Shaw rushed five times, Alshon Jeffery caught two passes, Nick Jones caught another and Kenny Miles rushed once.
Wilds didn't score, and did fumble after that drive to give Tennessee another chance, but no harm came of it. He sat down in the post-game and didn't really seem to grasp it - not only is he the Gamecocks' tailback, but he is now the Gamecocks' star.
"They kind of wear down in the second half a little bit," Wilds said. "I guess they thought we weren't going to run the ball this game. A lot of times, we ran quick offense. They didn't have time to set their defense up."
Wilds' father said last week that he knew his son could do it, despite the immense pressure of trying to be Lattimore and of running behind a patchwork offensive line. But the line did an outstanding job of opening holes and Wilds ran through them, giving USC a shot in the arm and another step closer to a return trip to the SEC Championship Game.
"He stepped up, had a great game," Shaw said. "He did a great job."
Just like he knew he could.
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