COLUMBIA - South Carolina may have to regroup from an opening-night blowout without star running back Mike Davis, whom Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier termed "doubtful" for Saturday's contest against East Carolina.
Davis, a junior whose 1,183 yards last season ranked fourth-best in school history, continues to be plagued with a rib bruise that has hampered him since preseason camp. The Atlanta native didn't start the opener this past Thursday against Texas A&M, and carried just six times for 15 yards before leaving in the third quarter of the 52-28 loss. Spurrier said on his Sunday teleconference that Brandon Wilds would start against the Pirates.
"He right now is sort of doubtful," Spurrier said of Davis. "He's not practicing the next few days. Later in the week we'll see how his condition is. It's a bad bruise, bruised rib. It's panful for him right now."
Wilds led the Gamecocks with 45 yards on the ground against the Aggies. Spurrier said he'd also like to get redshirt freshman David Williams some carries Saturday night against the Pirates, who opened their season Saturday with a 52-7 victory over Football Championship Subdivision opponent North Carolina Central.
"David needs to play a little bit," Spurrier said. "He's going on his second year here, he's a good-sized back, and 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 in this coming game."
For the Gamecocks (0-1) there's plenty to work on before Saturday's 7 p.m. contest at Williams-Brice Stadium. The lack of an effective pass rush combined with a chronic inability to finish tackles helped Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill throw for a school-record 511 passing yards in his first collegiate start. East Carolina (1-0) will bring in a similar spread offense, this one helmed by a senior quarterback, Shane Carden, who threw for a school-record 4,139 yards last season.
"We've certainly got to play fundamentally better, got to tackle a lot better, get some pass rush, all that kind of stuff," Spurrier said. "We've got a lot of improving to do. But we believe we've got the players to do it, so we're going to find out."
Spurrier left open the possibility that there could be "one or two" lineup moves on defense, but didn't expect a wholesale change. The Gamecocks - who will certainly tumble from their No. 9 ranking when the new AP Top 25 is released Tuesday - returned to practice Saturday for the first time since the opening-night loss, and the mood was "about what you'd expect," Spurrier said.
"We realize that if we're going to win a lot of games, we better play the game the way it's supposed to be played," he added. "We can't just show up and hope it happens, a lot like it did last year. We won some games last year where the other team actually outplayed us, but the ball would bounce our way. But we've got to win the battle up front. Don't think we did that last week. We'll try to do that this week."
In the wake of Thursday's loss, Spurrier said the USC coaching staff will make some changes in practice to foster more competition and speed up the pace. "We're going to ty to change practice around a little bit, try to be a little more competitive maybe in practice, see if we can get our guys playing at a faster pace, offensively and defensively and on special teams," he said. "I think Texas A&M played a lot faster and a lot smarter than we did."
And East Carolina - which went 10-3 last season, recording road victories against North Carolina and North Carolina State along the way - will want to play fast, too. The Pirates run an up-tempo attack that aims for 100 plays per game. Texas A&M managed 99 against the Gamecocks last week.
"East Carolina is a team that has some big, big expectations or big goals this year. I read that," Spurrier said. "They've got an excellent team. Their players really play hard, and smart. So it's going to be a tough one for us, and we know that. If we're going to beat them, we've got to play the game. If we show up like we did last week, we'll be in serious trouble."