With any coaching change, especially a transition during the season like South Carolina experienced when Steve Spurrier stepped down and Shawn Elliott took over as interim head coach, the biggest expectation has to be an improvement on the field.
The Gamecocks (3-5, 1-5 SEC) are 1-1 since Elliott took the helm, but who’s shown the most improvement under his watch?
Running back Brandon Wilds has improved his average from 5.2 yards per carry to just better than 6 yards each time he rushes. He’s also carrying the ball more frequently; Wilds averaged 20.5 rushing attempts over the last two games while only getting 11.7 in his first three contests.
Elliott attributed Wilds’ recent explosion to a concerted effort to improve his running conditions.
“I think all line coaches want to run the ball and become a little bit more physical at times,” said Elliot during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “I just wanted to get Brandon Wilds and our other backs the opportunity to be consistent and place the ball in their hands a little more, and see if we could get a little more production.
“We’re trying to stay on the field and establish our run game. Over the last two contests we’ve been able to do that to some degree; we’ve just got to continue to do that.”
It seems natural that Elliott, a coach who spent 15 years building offensive lines, would look in that direction to make the quickest adjustments upon taking over. But there’s more to Wilds’ improvement.
Wilds apparently entered Spurrier’s doghouse when he took time off because of a rib injury, even though he had been medically cleared. The Head Ball Coach took a not-so-subtle jab at his running back three weeks ago.
“If a player says he can’t (play), then obviously he can’t play,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes players say he could’ve played if he wanted. We allow the players to make the call.”
Wilds missed three games, including the matchup with undefeated LSU. When Spurrier left, Wilds got back on the field, and returned with a vengeance.
Elliott’s tweaks to the offensive will surely be credited for most of Wilds’ improved output, but don’t overlook the fact that he now has a head coach who’s completely invested in making the running back ultra successful.