Tavien Feaster expected to be South Carolina’s lead back when he transferred from Clemson, but when senior and three-year starter Rico Dowdle stepped up his game, it didn’t quite play out that way.
So Feaster had to bide his time and be patient. Muschamp like he does when he’s running the ball.
“Feaster is just a very patient guy,” left tackle Sadarius Hutcherson said. “He’s very patient and once he sees the hole, he shoots it up the gap.”
When Dowdle went down with a knee injury on the first play of the game last week against Florida, Feaster shot the gap and took over South Carolina’s improving running game. Against a strong Florida defense, Feaster rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown in his best game as a Gamecock. His 21-yard touchdown run gave the Gamecocks a 17-10 lead in the third quarter before the No. 9 Gators rallied for a 38-27 win.
“Obviously I wanted to win, but form a personal standpoint, I felt pretty good with what I did,” Feaster said. “I just have to keep playing and keep moving on.”
With Feaster leading the way, South Carolina rushed for 246 yards against Florida and is averaging 197 yards per game. After seven games, the Gamecocks are fourth in the SEC in rushing, their highest ranking under head coach Will Muschamp. Though that average is padded by a school-record 493 yards against Charleston Southern, South Carolina has rushed for 247 yards against Kentucky and 217 against Florida.
Dowdle was having a fabulous senior season and leading South Carolina in rushing until he sprained his knee against Florida. He is expected to miss this week’s game against Tennessee before a possible return.
With Dowdle out, Feaster will be expected to carry the load again this week. He had 25 carries last week and now leads the Gamecocks with 492 yards and is averaging six yards per carry (Dowdle has 457 and 5.9). Senior Mon Denson added 58 yards and a touchdown last week and will be the primary backup. Senior A.J. Turner, who has moved back to running back after starting the season on defense, could also play after battling a hamstring injury.
When Dowdle went down, as he has the past two seasons, Muschamp found comfort in his depth at running back with Feaster and Denson.
“There's no doubt, [Feaster is] a very talented guy, and Mon is as well,” he said. “So when you have depth in a position like that, as a coach it makes you feel good to know that you're going to have quality production at the position, regardless of who's in the game. And certainly we had that at that position.”
His teammates have gained a lot of respect for Feaster, who rushed for 1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons at Clemson and played on the Tigers’ 2016 and 2018 national championship teams.
“We know where he comes from and he runs the ball hard,” senior center Donell Stanley said. “I appreciate everything Tavien does for us. He’s just a guy who comes in there every day and does the right thing and it pays off when you watch him on the field. Knowing we have him behind us, I’m confident.”
“I’m not much of a rah rah guy, I try to lead by example,” Feaster said. “Be here early, be here on time and just be dialed in whenever I step on the practice field and the walk-thrus. Just staying focused and trying to lead by example.”
The Gamecocks, 3-4 and 2-3 in the SEC, are also benefitting from an improved offensive line. With young guards Jordan Rhodes and Jovaughn Gwyn and freshman tackle Jaylen Nichols settling into starting roles with Stanley and Hutcherson, the Gamecocks are opening up big holes up front.
“We just got to keep on,” Stanley said. “Just got to keep playing physical and we have to do a better job of finishing blocks. A couple of times our guys are getting tackled five yards down the field when it could be an even bigger run. We just have to finish blocks and just keep getting on the right guys and we’ll be alright.”
Feaster sees the running game continuing to thrive. Tennessee is allowing 157 yards rushing per game so the Gamecocks will face a solid run defense this weekend in Knoxville.
“We are very confident to put it on the ground however many times we need to to get the job done,” Feaster said. “Obviously coach believes in our room and we go out each week and play to produce.”