South Carolina’s running backs are ‘banged up.’ What’s the plan for Saturday?

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In a matter of seven weeks, South Carolina’s running backs room has gone from flush with depth to beaten and battered.

Such is life in the Southeastern Conference, head Shane Beamer said, as his Gamecocks (4-3, 1-3 SEC) prepare for a trip to Texas A&M this weekend.

“We’re a beat-up football team,” Beamer said Wednesday in the weekly SEC teleconference. “We’ve played seven straight weeks without an off week, just like Texas A&M has. That’s just called life in the SEC, and everybody’s got bumps and bruises.”

Perhaps no position group on the roster is as beleaguered as running back, with Kevin Harris, MarShawn Lloyd and ZaQuandre White all nursing injuries following last Saturday’s 21-20 win over Vanderbilt. Freshman standout Juju McDowell also missed that game due to an unspecified “accountability issue” with the team, but he is expected to return this week.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said all four running backs practiced Wednesday, and the staff expects all four to be available — but that’s certainly not set in stone.

“Everybody’s banged up right now, especially that position, and it’s a very physical position, so nobody’s 100%,” Satterfield said. “But they are at least out there at practice today and trying make sure that they get on that plane and get to Texas.”

Heading into the matchup with the Aggies, South Carolina ranks 97th in the country and 11th in the SEC in rushing offense, with 124 yards per game, while Texas A&M ranks seventh in the SEC in rushing defense at 137.7 yards allowed per game.

USC’s rushing game appears to be trending upward. After posting a measly 58 team rushing yards against Kentucky, the Gamecocks have averaged 122 yards in the past three games. Satterfield credited a change in approach in the running game, as well as running more plays under center in recent weeks after easing in Luke Doty with a heavy dose of shotgun and pistol packages. With Doty ruled out for the season and Zeb Noland starting the rest of the way, expect more packages under center to help facilitate the running game.

Who will get the ball is more of a mystery given the uncertain health status of at least three of the team’s backs. Harris had been operating as the team’s starter but registered just six first-half carries against Vanderbilt before injury sidelined him; Lloyd carried the ball just six times, as well. After not carrying the ball since Week 3 at Georgia, the veteran White took over in the second half and rushed for a team-leading 72 yards on 12 totes.

Beamer said this week that Harris could handle 25 to 30 carries if needed. Asked Wednesday how Harris figures into the team’s plans going forward, Beamer said he’s “right in the middle of our plans.” More than likely, the Gamecocks will continue to mix and match, and McDowell figures to continue to play a key role as a pass-catching option and a speedy complement to the more powerful Harris.

“I know (the running game’s) getting better because of how we’re attacking,” Satterfield said. “We’re trying to attack the edges probably a little bit more than we were early on and just making sure that we’re getting those running backs in the right place and that they fit. It’s going to get better the more you practice and the more you’re playing.

“It’s heading in the right direction. It’s never going to be where we want it, but we are getting better.”

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