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With USC’s Mike Davis doubtful, redshirt freshman David Williams likely to see action

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Mike Davis

South Carolina running back Mike Davis (28) looks on before an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Thursday in Columbia. Texas A&M won 52-28. 

COLUMBIA — With Mike Davis described as “sort of doubtful” for Saturday’s 7 p.m. clash with East Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium, Brandon Wilds and the other South Carolina running backs are likely share the running back load against the improved Pirates.

And that includes redshirt freshman David Williams.

Odds of Williams making his much-anticipated debut for the Gamecocks against East Carolina increased when Steve Spurrier told reporters Sunday afternoon that Davis, USC’s leading rusher last season, would not practice for the next couple of days due to bruised ribs.

“Our trainers said (Davis) in not practicing for the next few days, so I guess later in the week (he might return),” Spurrier said during his weekly teleconference. “We’ll see how his condition is. It’s a badly bruised rib and it’s painful for him right now.

Davis carried six times for 15 yards in Thursday’s 52-28 loss to Texas A&M before exiting the game with bruised ribs, while Wilds led the Gamecocks in rushing with 45 yards on nine carries. Shon Carson had one carry for two yards as USC struggled to run the ball against the Aggies’ athletic front seven.

So, is this the week the highly acclaimed Williams sees action?

“Brandon Wilds will probably start and Shon Carson is here,” Spurrier said. “David Williams needs to play a little bit. He is going on his second year here now and he’s a good-sized back. He needs to carry the ball some. Hopefully, we can block and make some holes for our running backs. But David Williams will probably get some carries this coming game.”

How many carries Williams gets will depend on how the game proceeds. If USC is able to run a lot of plays (they ran just 62 on Thursday because Texas A&M controlled the ball for nearly 38 minutes), all three available running backs (or four if Davis is healthy enough to play) could divide the spoils.

“You can’t play four. You can play two or maybe three if you get a big lead,” Spurrier said. “If you have 99 plays like Texas A&M did, you can play five running backs and have about five receivers catching passes. Normally, the games are 70 to 80 plays.”

Regardless of which running backs carry the ball, the Gamecock offense must perform at a much higher level than it did in Thursday’s opening game setback to Texas A&M. The feeble performance by the USC defense (school record 680 yards allowed) garnered most of the post-game headlines, but the offense didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard or the statistics sheet, either.

“We’re looking forward to seeing if we can play a lot better game here Saturday night,” Spurrier said. “East Carolina is a very good opponent. They were 10-3 last year and Coach Ruffin (McNeill) has done a super job there. They’ve got a good team. We’re going to need to play a lot better than we played the last time out.

“Hopefully, we can do that. I know the fans will be there screaming and yelling. We’re going to need them also. Obviously, it was a rough start last Thursday. This will be a good test, and certainly won’t be an easy one.”

USC quarterback Dylan Thompson made his first career start against ECU two years ago, throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-37 passing in a 48-10 win at Williams-Brice. However, after watching video of ECU’s 52-7 shellacking of N.C. Central Saturday in Greenville, N.C., Spurrier contends this year’s Pirates defense is vastly superior to the one USC faced in 2012.

“Dylan had a good game and threw for some touchdowns and Marcus Lattimore had some nice runs, but they played us tough,” Spurrier said. “Our defense played very well. They ended up with (10) points. But that was two years ago. They’re a lot better team now than they were then. Their defense is quick, well-conditioned and well coached. They play their assignment and they’re not out of position.

“They have some new guys. They have big expectations and goals this year. They play hard and smart. It will be a tough one for us. If we show up like we did last week, we’ll be in serious trouble.”

Most questions, of course, pertaining to the Gamecocks in the aftermath of the 24-point loss to Texas A&M surround the defense. However, those Gamecock fans eyeing massive changes on that side of the ball are likely to be disappointed.

“Most of the guys who played the last game are scheduled to play this one,” Spurrier said echoing the comments of defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward following the Texas A&M loss. “If there are one or two changes, that could happen. We have to play fundamentally better. We have to tackle a lot better and get some pass rush, all that kind of stuff. We have a lot improving to do, but we believe we have the players to do it. We’ll find out.”

Spurrier likewise dismissed talk about USC radically altering its plans about moving forward with fully implementing the 3-4 defense after relying mostly on the 4-2-5 scheme for the past six seasons.

“It didn’t matter what we did the other night. We tried a little bit of everything,” Spurrier said. “They had a lot of plays and they threw it and caught it. They pass blocked. They have an excellent offensive line. They may be very good. Time will tell if they are good as they looked the other night.”

ECU quarterback Shane Carden threw for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns a year ago, and began the 2014 season with another impressive showing against overmatched N.C. Central. He was 26-of-37 passing for 283 yards and three TDs in the intrastate opening game battle.

“We all know what he has done the last couple of years,” Spurrier said of Carden. “He’s a very good player and excellent passer. They know what they’re doing in the passing game. They’re a lot like Texas A&M. They get it out of their hands quickly. They have excellent receivers. We’re going to be well tested on defense, that’s for sure.”

In order to prepare the USC defense for ECU’s fast-paced tempo on offense, Spurrier plans to change up a few things in practice this week in order to get the team better acclimated to playing at a faster pace.

“We’re going to try to change practice around a little bit and try to be a little more competitive in practice,” Spurrier said.

NOTES

Spurrier on what is USC’s strength on offense exiting the Texas A&M game”: “We don’t have one right now. We need to improve a lot running and passing the ball. Actually, the entire team has to improve and we need to coach better. Total improvement is needed.”

Spurrier said USC’s demeanor during Saturday’s practice was “about what you’d expect.” He added: “We realize if we’re going to win a bunch of games we had better play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We can’t just show up and hope it happens like it did last year. We have to win the battle up front. We didn’t do that last week. We’ll try to do it this week.”

Spurrier on Thursday’s performance: “We were all surprised it didn’t go according to plan. But it’s history now and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves.”

Spurrier after watching Georgia RB Todd Gurley last night in win over Clemson: “You wonder how anybody is going to tackle him right now. But we’ll worry about him two weeks from now.”

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