COLUMBIA — Had running back Marcus Lattimore remained healthy during his three seasons with South Carolina, he could have supplanted Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers as the best player in school history.
No. 6 South Carolina (1-0) at No. 11 Georgia (0-1)
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Radio: Radio: WWIK-FM 98.9
Line: Georgia by 3.
But as good as Lattimore was, the one thing that he lacked throughout his collegiate career was game-breaking speed. His longest run from scrimmage was 58 yards, and that came during his freshman season against Troy. The longest run from scrimmage during the 2012 season was turned in by quarterback Connor Shaw, a 64-yard gain against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
In just one game, sophomore running back Mike Davis displayed the kind of big-play speed that the Gamecocks have been missing.
Davis’ 75-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter against North Carolina in the Gamecocks’ 27-10 season-opening victory last Thursday night is what USC running backs coach Everette Sands hopes to see more of this fall.
“Mike has that big-play potential,” Sands said during preseason camp. “Mike can change the momentum of a game with one snap. He’s got that kind of speed. It’s one of the reasons why he’s our starter.”
Davis turned what was a routine off-tackle snap into a momentum-changing play when he shrugged off a North Carolina defender at the line of scrimmage, cut to the outside and then raced past the Tar Heels secondary into the end zone.
Three defensive backs from North Carolina had the angle on Davis as he drifted toward the Gamecocks sidelines, but none got near enough to him to make a tackle or push him out of bounds.
“I guess my speed shows for itself,” Davis said. “Some people thought I would be slow, but I just wanted to show my talents.”
Davis finished with a career-high 115 yards on just 12 rushing attempts against the Tar Heels.
“I wanted to set the tone early,” Davis said. “I was trying to go out and punish guys and then later use some finesse.”
While no one is suggesting that Davis is better than Lattimore or can replace the former All-American, Sands said Davis brings another dimension to the Gamecocks rushing attack. Sands has counseled Davis on the pressures and expectations of replacing a player of Lattimore’s stature.
“No one player is going to replace a guy like Marcus,” Sands said. “We don’t want Mike to be Marcus. We want Mike to be Mike, and trust me, that’s plenty good enough.”
Having Brandon Wilds as a backup has helped take some of the burden off of Davis. Wilds rushed for 64 yards on 12 attempts against North Carolina. When Davis’ older brother James was playing at Clemson, he and C.J. Spiller formed a rushing duo dubbed “Thunder and Lightning.” Davis hopes to duplicate that success at South Carolina with Wilds.
“Brandon is a very big guy, very hard runner,” Davis said. “He also has breakaway speed. I guess you can call both of us ‘Thunder and Lightning.’ ”
Lattimore was especially effective against Georgia, the Gamecocks’ opponent on Saturday. In three games against the Bulldogs, Lattimore rushed for 467 yards and four TDs.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he was impressed with both Davis and Wilds on film.
“Their backs ran hard. I saw two running backs that looked like they had a really good ball game (against North Carolina),” Richt said.
Davis, a native of Lithonia. Ga., which is just a stone’s throw from Sanford Stadium, said the game on Saturday against Georgia will be personal.
“I am showing all my emotions,” Davis said. “It’s a hometown game, UGA. I can’t wait. I already have had guys call me and tell me they are going to beat us. I’m going to show all my emotions that game.”
South Carolina running back Mike Davis (28) carries the ball for short yardage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)×
South Carolina Gamecocks running back Mike Davis (28) celebrates after scoring on a long run in the third quarter of the Gamecocks game against North Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Thursday, August 29, 2013. ¬×