Notebook: Gamecocks' run game improves under Elliott

jkendall@thestate.comDecember 29, 2013 

Shawn Elliott at South Carolina's Capital One Bowl practice on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, at Celebration High School in Kissimmee, Fla.

DWAYNE MCLEMORE — dmclemore@thestate.com

— South Carolina will enter Wednesday’s Capital One Bowl with most of the attention being paid to the running game of its opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers, but it’s still worth noting the progress the Gamecocks have made under offensive line coach Shawn Elliott.

South Carolina finished last in the SEC in rushing each of the three seasons before Elliott was hired prior to the 2010 season, averaging 109.7 yards per game during that span. In Elliott’s four seasons, the Gamecocks have averaged 172.6 yards per game on the ground and finished on average seventh in the league in rushing.

“There has been progress made,” Elliott said. “I think the running game is important. I think it’s something that always has to get better. We have established some schemes that we like, and we incorporate them and we run them no matter what. I think that helps us.”

South Carolina finished the 2013 regular season fifth in the SEC with an average of 205.3 yards per game.

The Gamecocks expect to return four starting offensive linemen next season and likely will have a backup with playing experience at all five positions.

“When I got here, I remember saying, ‘Who’s our center?’ No one had ever snapped the ball before,” Elliott said. “So I said, ‘Who’s our best lineman?’ It was T.J. Johnson, so I said, ‘Alright T.J. you’re the center, here we go.’ So we had to build off that. Now we have three or four, five guys out there snapping the football at times. That’s progress.”

Mental edge

Special teams coordinator Joe Robinson suspected Elliott Fry might be his field goal kicker before he even met the freshman walk-on from Texas.

“When you listen to the other players talk about the way he handled himself in the summer,” Robinson said. “He’s a 150-pound new guy in here that nobody knows, and he got right in there and fought with everybody and didn’t back down from anybody. When a kid does some things like that, you say, ‘Maybe this kid has some toughness to him.’ I really think the best kickers I have been around have been tough guys. That doesn’t mean they could whip everybody in a fistfight but they are very, very mentally tough people.”

After winning the job in fall camp, Fry made 15-of-18 field goals this year, missing only once from inside 40 yards.

Room for improvement

Robinson won’t argue the discouraging punting statistics his team has put up this year. South Carolina is last in the conference in net punting (37.3 yards per kick), and junior punter Tyler Hull is ninth in the SEC averaging 38.5 yards per kick.

“Not good enough,” Robinson said. “We have to get better and we are working on that every day.”

Still, he will defend Hull and his season.

“I will say there have been a lot of good things he has done for us the last two years,” said Robinson, mentioning Hull’s quick kicks and accurate ball placement. “He has done a lot of wonderful things for us. On the negative side, we just have to get the ball down there a little further.”

Sport sidelined

Reserve right guard Will Sport sat out Sunday’s practice due to a sprained ankle. Sport, who started the Tennessee game in place of an injured Ronald Patrick, is questionable for Wednesday’s game.

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