- Edward Aschoff, College Football
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In a blink of an eye, Mike Davis was gone. Actually, it might have been less than a blink.
However long it took for people to realize that Davis had bullied his way through his line before bouncing off two North Carolina defenders, the 5-foot-9, 219-pound bowling ball of a running back cut right and was off to a race down the sideline for a 75-yard dagger of a touchdown in the third quarter of South Carolina's 27-10 season-opening win.
Knocking UNC defenders around up front wasn't much of a surprise, but Davis' ability to throw on his track star legs to beat the Tar Heels' defense did. Head coach Steve Spurrier thought Davis would end up with a 25-yard run. Maybe 35. But when the Head Ball Coach saw the sophomore chugging down the sideline with two defenders nipping at his heels, he couldn't help but be impressed.
"One of them had a little bit of an angle on him," Spurrier said. "That was impressive."
With a year to immerse himself into South Carolina's offense, Spurrier's teaching and get some once-in-a-lifetime guidance from Marcus Lattimore, Davis has the DNA to be a special back. He went from being the backup's backup, to rushing for 115 yards on 12 carries in his first career start last Thursday.
"One thing that Mike has is really great vision and he has really great quickness," running backs coach Everette Sands said. "He can see (the hole) and he can get to it, which is very important for a running back."
For Davis' encore, he's headed to Athens, Ga., where the sixth-ranked Gamecocks (1-0) will take on No. 11 Georgia (0-1). As usual, this game has major SEC title implications, but this one will feel extra special for Davis. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native wasn't made available to the media this week, but his coaches expect a lot of emotions from Davis, who will be a little more than hour away from home Saturday.
Davis, who was recruited by Georgia but committed to Florida before signing with the Gamecocks, will have to monitor his emotions, Sands said. Controlling those emotions when things go well or go badly will be huge for the young back Saturday. Keeping his composure is key as he looks to direct South Carolina's running game, which has become the Gamecocks' M.O. under Spurrier, especially against the Dawgs.
During South Carolina's current three-game winning streak against Georgia, the Gamecocks have averaged 224 rushing yards. In those games, Lattimore rushed for 182, 176 yards and 109 yards, respectively, with four total touchdowns.
Lattimore might be gone, but Georgia coach Mark Richt said Davis is equipped with the talent to inflict the same sort of damage.
"Rarely will you see one guy take him down," Richt said. "It usually takes a group. He was always a pretty physical, punishing runner back in his high school days.
"There's no question in our mind that we thought he was a great player (in high school) and wanted him at Georgia."
But Davis is playing against Georgia a week after the Bulldogs' defense had a not-so-flattering showing in their 38-35 opening loss to Clemson.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Georgia's defense registered 10 missed tackles (the Bulldogs totaled 106 all last season), while Clemson gained 112 rushing yards after contact and finished with 197 yards on the ground.
"It's concerning when you see people scoring a touchdown off of a play that should have been a 10-yard gain," Richt said. "That's a problem."
It'll be a major problem for if the Bulldogs hesitate against Davis, who Spurrier said is faster and stronger than he was last year. Davis can bulldoze ahead or cut to the outside and hurt you on the perimeter, where the Bulldogs are the youngest.
And Davis won't be alone with pounding partner Brandon Wilds (12 rushes, 64 yards last week) by his side. Davis is the focus, but Wilds will provide more punch while Davis' legs rest.
It'll help Georgia to get safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (suspension) and Corey Moore (sprained knee) back, but they'll need help. It'll have to be a collective effort to contain this running game, especially Davis.
But as Richt knows, sometimes it's just hard to stop a train.
"Great backs are going to break tackles," he said, "I don't care good of a tackler you are."
In a blink of an eye, Mike Davis was gone. Actually, it might have been less than a blink. However long it took for people to realize that Davis had bullied his way through his line before bouncing off two North Carolina defenders, the 5-foot-9, 219-pound bowling ball of a running back cut right and was off to a race down the sideline for a 75-yard dagger of a touchdown in the third quarter of South Carolina's 27-10 season-opening win.