South Carolina's offensive line may have struggled early against East Carolina. But the veteran line recovered for a strong finish in the 56-37 victory.
A big reason for the solid play was senior right tackle Rokevious Watkins, now in the best shape of his career at Carolina.
Watkins was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after keeping his Gamecock quarterbacks unbothered, allowing not a single quarterback hurry against the Pirates.
Coach Steve Spurrier points out a couple of reasons behind Watkins' performance. He's lighter than he's ever been, but still a force up front with the versatility to be moved around.
"I think he can play about anywhere up front… He's in the best shape, probably of his life," Spurrier said. "I think he came here about 345, 350 [pounds] and I think he's down to 325 now, which he can handle pretty easily."
As Spurrier noted, he's gained some agility now that he's lost weight. That, coupled with the athleticism he had even when he was 20 pounds heavier, has Watkins primed for a solid year, regardless of his spot on the line.
"He's just a little stronger, a little quicker feet and all that. But he's a pretty good athlete," Spurrier said. "He can run around pretty good, and he handles the weight that he has right now."
Even after receiving the honor, the Georgia native maintains that it was just as much a credit to the entire unit than to himself.
"I'm not glorifying myself. I'll be glorifying my team before I glorify myself," Watkins said. "We worked as a unit to get the job done. That's all that matters."
He hopes the accolade will be contagious, further motivating his fellow lineman to strive for the best. It looks like that's already taking effect.
"Terrence [Campbell] came to me the other day and said, 'you got it the first week, I'm going to try and get the next week'. That's the kind of competition we need," Watkins said."
That sort of competition generated from success isn't the only way Watkins makes this team better. Defensive tackle Melvin Ingram believes No. 73 is the cream of the crop in the SEC. Ingram says Watkins is so good up front, he has a way of making the entire D-line better just by going up against him in practice.
"He's a tremendous player. He gets me better every day in practice," Ingram said. "Going against him, I feel like he's one of the best in the SEC. So going against him gets me ready as well as the other defensive lineman ready for the game."
When asked what Watkins' biggest strength was, Ingram responded with just two quick works.
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