COLUMBIA – Everett Sands would have picked the Georgia game, but South Carolina lost. The Gamecocks running backs coach would’ve picked the Central Florida game, but his stud tailback fumbled his last carry.
The question posed to Sands after Wednesday night’s practice was blunt and simple. Of the great games sophomore running back Mike Davis had in the first half of the season, which was his best? Sands thought about it, went down the list before finally settling on one.
Davis had 106 yards on 21 carries (5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns against the Wildcats earlier in October. More importantly, he didn’t have any mistakes.
“We actually wound up and started running the ball downhill and did a great job,” Sands said.
On the season, Davis leads the SEC with 742 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. At the midway point, each of his games has been memorable.
“I knew he was going to have the chance to be the workhorse,” Sands said. “The big thing that I want him, I want to make sure that we don’t necessarily overwork him, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that thus far. I would love for him to be in that 20 to 25 carries (per game), and somebody else to get 10 to 15.
“Yes, he’s doing a good job. And we need him to continue to put together those types of performances.”
Sands chose Kentucky. You may choose another game. Below, I rank Davis’ games from the season’s first half.
(Note: This is just one reporter’s opinion. Feel free to disagree. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.)
1) Mike Davis vs. Central Florida: 26 carries, 167 yards, 6.4 ypc, 3 TDs, 2 catches, 11 yards
I understand the late-game fumble was an egregious error. I also understand Sands is trying to make a teaching point. From a coach’s perspective, any flaw can outweigh the highlights. That’s his job. But Davis almost single-handedly won the UCF game. He had a 53-yard touchdown run, and it wasn’t even his most impressive touchdown. Davis had well over 100 yards in the second half when UCF knew he was getting the ball. Hard to top that.
2) Mike Davis vs. Georgia: 16 carries, 149 yards, 9.3 ypc, 1 TD, 4 catches, 49 yards
It was a loss for South Carolina, but that was hardly Davis’ fault. The Gamecocks’ second game of the season included Davis’ second 75-yard run of the fall. But what made this performance special was the story Davis’ high school coach told me. In the week before the game, Stephenson (Ga.) High coach Corey Johnson told Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson that Davis would have 200 yards from scrimmage against the Bulldogs defense. Johnson said Wilson didn’t take him seriously. Davis didn’t quite get to 200, but 198 yards is pretty good.
3) Mike Davis vs. Kentucky: 21 carries, 106 yards, 5 ypc, 2 touchdowns, 3 catches, 54 yards
If you think about a typical Mike Davis performance this season, this stat line from the Kentucky game fits. Five yards every time he carries the football. At least one touchdown. Big-time receiving threat out of the backfield. One of the better stats to explain Davis’ production is this: he has eight catches of at least 10 yards this season. Only one other SEC running back has more than four. None have more than five.
4) Mike Davis vs. Arkansas: 19 carries, 128 yards, 6.7 ypc, 1 touchdown, 3 catches, 4 yards
By last week, Davis was no secret – to fans, media, or even his own coaches. It’s somewhat amazing Davis didn’t get 20 carries in a game until the last week of September. Once the coaches caught on, he’s been used as that “workhorse” back ever since. He didn’t quite get to 20 carries at Arkansas, but that’s because he didn’t play the fourth quarter. Rest assured, his usage will be quite high in the season’s second half.
5) Mike Davis vs. North Carolina: 12 carries, 115 yards, 9.6 yards per carry, 1 touchdown
When you look back on the season, I’m not sure any single Davis run will be more important than his 75-yard touchdown against the Tar Heels. Talking with his brother, James, and mother, Teresa, it was a genuinely surprising moment. James, a former Clemson running back, didn’t expect to see that kind of speed from his brother. When Davis outran North Carolina’s secondary, it was the foundation for his confidence. Here was tangible, on-field evidence he could be the type of running back he envisioned all throughout the offseason.
6) Mike Davis vs. Vanderbilt: 17 carries, 77 yards, 4.5 ypc, 1 TD, 3 catches, 67 yards
When your “worst” game of the season includes 148 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown, you know you’re having a special season. This is the one game Davis didn’t crack 100 yards. It’s also his fewest yards per carry in any game. That said, Davis showed against Vanderbilt the type of balanced skillset that is rare for a college running back. And he still found the end zone, as he has every game this season.