When Marcus Lattimore went down with what would eventually turn out to be a season-ending injury in Saturday's 14-12 win over Mississippi State in Starkville, South Carolina running back coach Jay Graham looked to true freshman running back Brandon Wilds.
"He had a good look in his eye when Marcus went down," Graham said following Wednesday's practice. "I just looked at him and said ‘it's time to get in there. Are you ready? Are you prepared?' He said ‘yeah, I'm ready.' So he went in there and had a couple of good runs and it seemed like he understood. A lot of times when you have freshmen they have that long stare in their eyes when you're ready to put them in, but he was ready."
Wilds was ready and he played a role in the drive for the game-winning touchdown against the Bulldogs. Two plays after Lattimore went out, Wilds ran two yards to pick up a first down and later made a nice cutback for a 6-yard gain and a first down at the MSU five yard line. Three plays later Connor Shaw found Alshon Jeffery in the end zone for the touchdown.
Losing Lattimore for the season is a devastating blow to the team, but Graham is comfortable with Wilds in the backfield.
"He's done well," Graham said. "He did well in fall camp and had some big runs, and this year when he's got the ball he's made a couple of nice runs. I think he's prepared."
Wilds better be prepared. Despite practicing today, Kenny Miles remains very questionable for the Tennessee game next Saturday as does Eric Baker. That means that Wilds will be the starter when the Gamecocks travel to Knoxville, with Josh Hinch – a walk-on senior that has played one season at MidAmerica Nazarene – as the back-up. Though he didn't want to get the start this way, Wilds thinks he's ready to be the number one guy.
"In practice I did everything (Lattimore) did, so I'm comfortable (with it)," Wilds said. "I've been working all my life. Hard work pays off."
Two months ago it was unsure if Wilds would even see the playing field. With Lattimore, Miles, Baker, and Shon Carson seemingly all ahead of him, the idea of redshirting Wilds seemed to be a viable option to Graham. However, head coach Steve Spurrier said Wilds played an important role on special teams so the decision was made not to redshirt him.
"They use me on pretty much all the special teams and I was a key contributor, so they didn't want me to redshirt," Wilds said.
Graham has had Wilds at the fullback position to get him on the field, but Wilds feels his skill set is a little better for tailback.
"My speed, agility, and vision make me a tailback and not a fullback," Wilds said.
While Wilds would prefer to play tailback, Graham likes the versatility that Wilds brings to both positions with his speed and athleticism.
"He can play both," Graham said. "He's been in there when we did the direct snap to Marcus as a fullback and knows the position. He's really versatile and can do both of those things. He's playing tailback now and he certainly has the skill set to play it."
Wilds will get his chance to run wild over the Volunteer defense.
Graham had the following to say about Lattimore's attitude since the injury.
"He's doing well. He hasn't missed a beat. He was in the weight room lifting before we came out here, so he's just doing whatever he can. He watches tape when we're in meetings. I think the biggest thing is to stay in that competitive mode to do all the things to prepare yourself."
Wilds ready to be #1 back
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