COLUMBIA — David Williams is trying to reverse field on a rocky start to his sophomore season at South Carolina.
“I’m tough on myself, so every day, it was eating me up,” the Gamecocks tailback said after practice Wednesday. “Even when we saw film, I was like — I could have done better on that play, or I could have made this happen. I was beating myself up mentally. But now, I’ve got my mind right.”
After opening the season in line to split carries with Brandon Wilds, the Philadelphia native has fallen to third on the depth chart. It’s been a mistake-plagued first four games for Williams, full of missed blitz pickups, dropped passes and a struggle to pick up short yardage. Shon Carson will start Saturday at Missouri with Wilds still nursing a cracked rib suffered Sept. 19 at Georgia, and running backs coach Everette Sands also wants to get Rod Talley into the game.
“I want to see what he can do when he gets in there,” Sands said of the former walk-on.
It all sends a clear message to Williams, who carried the ball a career-high 14 times in last week’s victory over Central Florida, and finished with 32 yards. His average of 3.3 yards per carry is the lowest among USC’s top three tailbacks.
“I came out not playing like I wanted to play,” Williams said. “That’s why I’m coming out here every day at practice, working hard, to correct the things I messed up on.”
Head coach Steve Spurrier said Wilds and starting center Alan Knott both remain “very doubtful” for Missouri. Knott, who sprained an ankle against Georgia, was replaced in the lineup by true freshman Zack Bailey from Summerville.
And the Gamecocks could also be without starting wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who missed the UCF game with a hamstring strain he’s been battling since opening night against North Carolina. Samuel won’t travel to Missouri if he hasn’t improved by Thursday, receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said.
“Hamstrings come and go,” he said. “There are some days you come out and feel good, and then the next day you feel worse. That’s how he was last week. ... So tomorrow will be a judgment on his position, but hopefully he’s better and ready to roll.”
True freshman D.J. Neal started against Central Florida, and has been working with the first team this week in Samuel’s absence.
Suspended quarterback Maty Mauk might not be the only key starter missing for Missouri. Linebacker Kentrell Brothers, the national leader in tackles with 52, sprained an ankle in last week’s loss at Kentucky and is questionable against South Carolina.
The Tigers have weathered a spate of injuries already this season, including a sprained ankle suffered by top running back Russell Hansbrough. The senior, who scored three touchdowns at USC last season, sat out a game against Connecticut two weeks ago and carried six times for 11 yards in the loss at Kentucky.
How did Bailey fare in his first start? “He did a good job, didn’t get overwhelmed, played with confidence, played with poise,” offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. “Anytime an offensive lineman can go in there as a true freshman and play successful football, I’m pretty pleased with it.”
Hayden Hurst walked on as a tight end, but Spurrier Jr. said the 6-5, 252-pound former pro baseball player struggled with blocking after four years away from the game. USC moved him to receiver this week. “He can run and he can catch,” Spurrier Jr. said. “And he’s an intelligent kid and a really motivated young man ... so I think in he’ll fit in pretty good with us. I’m happy to have him.”
Spurrier Jr. is now coaching on the sideline as part of a shuffle that put quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus in the box beginning against UCF. Having so many young receivers, “between series, to be able to get with them and get a board out ... certainty that helps,” he said.