Wolford has USC's offense ready to run
COLUMBIA -- The title seemed like a legalistic formality.
Eric Wolford was anointed in January as South Carolina's running game coordinator, a position that didn't even previously exist.
The theory was, Wolford needed that name -- above being solely the offensive line coach -- to get a multi-year contract from a school that hadn't traditionally awarded them.
But, as the season gets closer and closer, it sure seems like it isn't just semantics with Wolford.
"I think we're definitely going to run the ball better," said guard Steven Singleton, a newcomer. "They want you to be tough and to fight and knock people down.
"They're serious about it. That's what coach Wolf has brought here, being physical. He wants to knock people back off the line of scrimmage and take that line over."
And that's from a guy who has only been on campus for a week. He's already figured out the Gamecocks' gameplan.
With a steely look, and an even more fiery on-field disposition, Wolford is intent on making South Carolina a running team.
Foremost, that's being played out in his primary care with the offensive linemen. But Wolford is also working with new running backs coach Jay Graham on the overall ground scheme.
Coach Steve Spurrier has said Wolford will be involved in the weekly play-calling, giving the team four or five runs on which to focus based on the opponent.
Spurrier even made the joke that the team is adopting the Dixie Chicks' song "Ready to Run" as an offensive anthem. Or maybe it wasn't a joke.
"We need to run the ball much better," Spurrier said. "We all know that."
He also said there's nowhere to go but up. Correct.
The Gamecocks averaged 94.1 rushing yards a game last season. That was last in the league. Comparatively, Florida ran for 231.1 yards a game.
"We know how good the SEC is, but you don't want to be last in anything," senior center Garrett Anderson said. "I'd say embarrassing is the right word. We didn't protect at all last year. We definitely tried, we gave it the best we could, but that's just being honest."
The product of that honest answer is likely what led to John Hunt's dismissal after a particularly embarrassing effort at Clemson.
Enter Wolford, who comes to USC after rebuilding the ground game at Illinois.
"We weren't near as good as the teams we played and needed to beat," Anderson said. "If we're going to be a successful team, we need to get better in all those categories."
South Carolina was 112th out of 119 FBS teams in rushing.
"Yeah, who wouldn't be upset? What person that cares would not be upset?" said left tackle Jarriel King, a North Charleston native. "Even the defense, even though they don't play offense, they're still like, 'Dang, we've got to do something on offense.' "
Of course, it transcends the line. It's also about the backs.
Spurrier has been complimentary in camp of junior Brian Maddox, who seems to be running tougher and with more purpose this summer.
"You need to be able to run the ball so you can pass the ball," said Maddox, who admitted not really understanding why he received just 32 carries a year ago. "The running game is definitely going to take the pressure off the passing game and Stephen (Garcia)."
Maddox will have help from some young horses.
Eric Baker is an athletic sophomore who's nearing a comeback from hernia surgery. Redshirt freshman Kenny Miles had a strong spring, with Graham saying he needs to show consistency. And Jarvis Giles has made quite a splash since arriving in January.
"Everybody does something a little different," Giles said. "I think three backs is great. A lot of schools that use three backs, two backs, they do a lot more damage. There's always a fresh pair of legs out there."
As thrilled as everyone is right now with the running game and the change in attitude Wolford has provided, the Gamecocks still have to prove in September, October and November.
"There's a very big jump from where we were to where we are now," King said, "but there's still another jump to be where we need to be."
Reach Travis Haney at email@example.com and check out the South Carolina blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks.