Will Muschamp has been clamoring for the past two years for a running back who can break tackles, make defenders miss and help give the Gamecocks a more explosive and consistent running game.
“We haven’t really had the guy who can make a guy miss consistently at the running back position, because in our league you are not going to block ‘em,” Muschamp said recently. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to make the guy miss and you have to run through contact.”
He may have reeled in his man Monday when Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster announced he will play for South Carolina this season.
Feaster showed in his time at Clemson that he can break long runs and produce big plays. In three years at Clemson, he averaged 6 yards per carry and gained more than 1,300 yards while splitting time with Heisman hopeful Travis Etienne. He rushed for 669 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017 but getting limited playing time last year as Etienne took over the starting role.
Feaster has played in the College Football Playoff three times, helping Clemson win two national championships, and has produced in some of Clemson’s biggest games. He gained 64 yards on nine carries against South Carolina last year, including a 13-yard touchdown. He also had a touchdown against the Gamecocks in 217.
At 5-11, 216 pounds, the former five-star recruit from Spartanburg High School has the power to get tough yards between the tackles and the speed to break long runs — something the Gamecocks have struggled to do the last few seasons.
Feaster could leap right to the top of the South Carolina depth chart at running back, giving the Gamecocks a deep group that includes four seniors. He could also be the lead back new running backs coach Thomas Brown is looking for.
While senior Rico Dowdle has shined at times, producing six career 100-yard games, he has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He missed five games with a broken leg as a sophomore and three more last year with an ankle injury. Mon Denson has also shined at times, but has also struggled with injuries. Feaster, Dowdle and Denson could give South Carolina a strong 1-2-3 punch at running back, with versatile senior A.J. Turner also in the mix.
South Carolina averaged just 122 yards per game in 2017. It improved that average to 153.5 last season, but still averaged just 4.5 yards per carry and was 12th in the SEC in rushing.
That must change this season for the Gamecocks to take the next step in its up-tempo offense. A strong running game can open up the passing lanes and deep routes for quarterback Jake Bentley, giving the Gamecocks one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC. With the loss of explosive wide receiver Deebo Samuel, Feaster could replace that big-play ability from the running back position.
South Carolina also must improve its running game to compete its against top teams like Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, which are all on the schedule this season.
A talented and seasoned veteran like Feaster should be a big step in that direction.