Many of us have spent a large portion of the past week mourning the tragic injury to Marcus Lattimore. Reality, though, has set in. Lattimore has begun a long rehabilitation process, and the South Carolina football team must play on through the rest of the season without its leader and possibly its best player. One of the major questions facing the Gamecocks now is how to divvy up the carries among the running backs. The choices are Kenny Miles and Mike Davis. Brandon Wilds is also available, but it sounds like the coaches are set on redshirting Wilds unless we suffer more injuries. Who should Carolina go with as the featured back between Miles and Davis?
Miles is not an elite back, but he's an experienced, proven commodity who is capable of having success if the rest of the offense is clicking. Miles is a guy who has come through for us time and time again, oftentimes in inauspicious circumstances. He came into his freshman season behind Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles on the depth chart, but he eventually became the starter, sharing the backfield with Maddox after Giles failed to develop. Miles's crowning moment on the season was a 100+-yard game in Carolina's big win over Clemson, and he ended the season as the team's leading rusher. Since then, Miles's carries have been limited due to Lattimore's emergence as one of the nation's best tailbacks, but Miles has always seemingly been around to make plays when we've needed him. He had some nice runs in 2010 CFA Bowl after Lattimore left the game, and he did well late last year against Clemson and Nebraska.
Davis, potentially, is an elite back. Although not considered to be quite the "can't miss" type of prospect Lattimore was coming out of high school, Davis was a universally coveted prospect who held offers from some of the best programs in the nation and was once committed to Florida. So far this year, Davis has mainly only seen action in mop-up duty. He's looked good enough in that capacity to prompt many Carolina fans to think that he might ought to have overtaken Miles as the number-two back behind Lattimore.
The two players bring different things to the table. Miles has excellent speed and accelerates hard once he chooses his hole. He seems to have evolved into a decent receiver out of the backfield, considering that this was a weak point for him during his freshman year. He knows the playbook and is an accomplished blocker who has a good feel for picking up blitzes. His biggest draw back is that he's shown himself to have limited vision. If he doesn't have a big hole, he's not typically been someone who makes good cutbacks and creates something out of nothing. Davis, like Miles, has good speed, and he's a violent runner who gets off tacklers well. I would expect better vision from Davis, based on his high-school reputation, and I also like what I've seen in terms of his instinctiveness in the open field. Davis has some of the intangibles that Miles lacks. The drawback for Davis is that you worry about his being an inexperienced back who might struggle against the blitz.
With Lattimore and Miles throughout the first half of the season, it was generally an 80-20 split on carries. I'm expecting something much more equitable between Davis and Miles--perhaps 60-40. The question, is someone gets more carries, who do you go with? I say the hot hand. On one side, the coaches owe it to Miles to give him the start. Miles came back to Carolina for his final season when he could have gone elsewhere and played a full season as the starter. He loves Carolina and has been a team guy his entire career. This is his moment, his chance to end a memorable career on a high note. On the other hand, Davis is probably the guy with the most natural talent, and if he gets in there and begins looking like the potential All-SEC back he might in fact be, he needs to get plenty of carries. I wouldn't be surprised if you see Davis come in and have a great showing this weekend. He's going to be a monster for us eventually, and with two weeks to prepare for his larger role, he's going to be ready. Give them both some opportunities and see what happens. I'm looking forward to seeing both of these guys do us proud.