South Carolina football: Rico Dowdle's return should spark Gamecocks' improved running game
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Rico Dowdle is healthy again, and first-year South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon is installing a quick-paced attack.
South Carolina has reason to believe its rush game might rebound this season after a couple down years.
Dowdle, the team's top rusher in 2016, is back, along with A.J. Turner and Ty'Son Williams. The Gamecocks also have taken to McClendon's run-pass option — opening holes that have not been there the past couple of years.
"This is certainly going to help our run game," coach Will Muschamp said.
Running the ball has been an issue since Muschamp arrived after the 2015 season.
The Gamecocks were 13th out of 14 Southeastern Conference teams two seasons ago, averaging just less than 135 yards a game. That number dropped last season to 122 yards, with Dowdle missing five games after breaking his leg at Tennessee.
Dowdle, a junior tailback, returned for the Gamecocks' Outback Bowl win over Michigan, providing a spark with 45 yards on six carries.
Running backs coach Bobby Bentley said last year's rotation was largely due to injuries.
"Somebody asked me why we rotated so much," he said. "We didn't rotate. It was who was the healthy guy. I don't want to rotate. I want a dominant guy."
Dowdle has performed this summer like someone who wants to dominate. Dowdle said he is confident South Carolina's running backs can be a force in the SEC.
"You can see the difference," he said.
McClendon wants to get off more snaps with his up-tempo attack, and he thinks that will make the run game more effective. The Gamecocks ran the ball only 405 times last season, fewer than all other SEC teams besides Florida and Vanderbilt.
With quarterback Jake Bentley and effective receivers in Bryan Edwards, Deebo Samuel and Shi Smith, Dowdle said South Carolina's threats on the outside also could open some space for the running backs.
"A.J.'s made Ty'Son better, Ty'Son's made A.J. better. They've made me better," Dowdle said.
Bobby Bentley, Jake Bentley's father, used a no-huddle, fast-paced offense when he was one of South Carolina's top high school coaches. The Gamecocks also have benefited from having former all-SEC tailback Marcus Lattimore as the team's director of player development for life skills.
"It all makes everyone work harder and want to improve," Bentley said.
Dowdle's optimism also comes from feeling good, Bobby Bentley said.
"He's healthy. He looks better. He's faster," Bobby Bentley said. "That's what's exciting to coach."
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Dowdle also said the offensive line is improved. The Gamecocks were in the bottom of the league in sacks allowed in 2015 and 2016. Their numbers improved a year ago and, according to Dowdle, should take another step forward this fall.
"They are opening holes that had not been there before," he said. "They're getting better."