COLUMBIA — Shon Carson saw nothing but open field, a runway illuminated Saturday night by Williams-Brice Stadium’s lights. He knew Florida’s defense was behind, left in his wake.
As the end zone got closer, there was only one thing on his mind.
“I was thinking six,” Carson said.
He was less than 40 yards from his first career touchdown when, seemingly from nowhere, the Gators caught him from behind. The Gamecocks’ sophomore said he wasn’t surprised. Florida may have the fastest defense in the SEC, after all.
Besides, Carson’s 58-yard run from the shadow of his team’s goal line put USC in position to kick a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, and it led to another number far much impressive.
With 102 rushing yards, Carson reached triple digits for the first time in his career. He was only the fourth running back to rush for at least 100 yards against Florida this season, joining Georgia’s Todd Gurley, LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Missouri’s Henry Josey.
That 58-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest against the Gators this fall, eclipsing Josey’s 50-yard run last month.
“It’s a big accomplishment that I got,” Carson reasoned after Wednesday night’s practice. “I couldn’t get it without my O-line, so you’ve got to give them props too. That’s a confidence builder. We’ve got two big backs that can go over 100 yards at any time.”
The other, of course, is USC sophomore Mike Davis. The Doak Walker semifinalist has reached the 100-yard mark seven times in 10 games, while Saturday was Carson’s first.
Since the time Carson arrived at USC, he’s been buried in the backfield. He had surgery on his left wrist late in preseason camp last year, costing him the 2012 season. It was the type of adversity that could derail a career. Instead, Carson has only gotten stronger.
When USC hosts Coastal Carolina at 1 p.m. Saturday, Carson will get his first career start.
“It’s just another game that I’ve got to play like I’m not starting,” Carson said. “It feels good to get more starts now that they’ve got more confidence in me, and they trust me with the ball more now.”
As good as Carson was last week, his first start comes because Davis isn’t 100 percent healthy. When Coastal Carolina is the next opponent on the schedule, stars are kept to the sideline for anything more severe than a hang nail. Carson isn’t challenging Davis on the depth chart. Next week against Clemson, Davis will shoulder the load.
Yet, it’s a testament to Carson’s improvement this fall that he can be relied on to start a game at all. As a freshman in 2011, Carson had three carries for 9 yards. In 10 games this season, he has 47 carries for 216 yards.
He’ll get a chance to build on that Saturday. USC offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott has full confidence in the backup shining with more opportunities.
“Speed, power and quickness. This guy can really get north and south very quickly,” Elliott said Wednesday. “He runs hard, he’s got a great motor. It doesn’t take a whole lot to get him started. You get a small, little crease, and he can take it. He did a fine job last week, very pleased with how he performed. Hopefully he can have another big week for us.”