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South Carolina Athletics photo / South Carolina running back Kevin Harris led the Southeastern Conference in rushing last season with 113.8 yards per game.

There will be many instances leading up to South Carolina's season opener against Eastern Illinois in which the offense gets the better of the defense in practices.

The offense, after all, does have junior running back Kevin Harris on its side.

"He's a stud," Gamecocks fifth-year senior tight end Nick Muse said at SEC Media Days. "He's a great guy and does the right things in and out of the building. He's on the academic honor roll. When you see him running behind you — I could miss a block, and I'm still confident he's going to make a positive play out of it just because of how much athletic ability he has and just who he is in general.

"He's 220 pounds of straight muscle, so not many people want to tackle him, and he runs pretty dang fast."

After an upset of No. 15 Auburn last October inside Williams-Brice Stadium improved South Carolina's record to 2-2, the Gamecocks quickly unraveled with six consecutive losses as the Will Muschamp era came to a brutal close. Five of the six losses were by at least 17 points, but Harris kept plowing ahead each and every Saturday.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Last year: 2-8 (2-8 SEC)

Season opener: Sept. 4 vs. Eastern Illinois in Columbia (7 p.m. on ESPN+)

Fun fact: Since reeling off a 33-6 record from 2011-13 via three consecutive 11-2 seasons under former coach Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks are 38-48 overall.

Up next: Tennessee

The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder from Hinesville, Georgia, rushed for 243 yards at Ole Miss and for 210 in the season finale at Kentucky. Only two Gamecocks running backs before Harris had surpassed 200 yards on multiple occasions — the familiar likes of George Rodgers and Marcus Lattimore.

Harris rushed 185 times for 1,138 yards (6.2 per carry) last season, becoming the first South Carolina player to lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards per game at 113.8, and it didn't take long for new Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer to recognize the special talent he inherited.

"Kevin is very tough and very physical, and it's hard for one person to bring him down," Beamer said. "He's a downhill runner who has really worked to improve his game, and not just carrying the football but running routes, his pass protection and all that stuff. We hired a running backs coach, Montario Hardesty, who played the position at a high level here in the SEC, and Coach Hardesty has done a great job with Kevin and all of our backs in terms of bringing those guys along.

"I hope Kevin has the year he had last year, but I hope we also have other running backs who do that as well to help lessen the load."

The league's top rusher from a year ago will be challenged on his own roster by MarShawn Lloyd, a top-50 national signee in the 2020 class who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last August.

Harris was just a three-star prospect coming out of Bradwell Institute, but made the most of an opportunity his freshman season against Charleston Southern, rushing six times for 147 yards and three touchdowns in a 72-10 shredding. That obviously did not turn out to be a fluke performance.

"I definitely feel like he's the best SEC back and really the best back in the nation, honestly," South Carolina senior defensive end Kingsley Enagbare said. "He's definitely a guy who's going to show out again this year, as he did last year, because he practices hard. Everything you saw last year was a result of his hard work."

The return of sophomore quarterback Luke Doty and the 1-2 punch of Harris and Lloyd could give the Gamecocks a more formidable attack under new coordinator Marcus Satterfield, who was UTC's offensive coordinator from 2009-12. That Harris scored 16 of South Carolina's 29 touchdowns last season is both impressive for Harris but also somewhat embarrassing for the offense as a whole.

Only Vanderbilt scored fewer touchdowns than South Carolina among SEC teams.

"Coach Sat is a good guy," Muse said. "He came from the Carolina Panthers and worked under Joe Brady, and I know how smart that guy is as well. Coach Sat has learned from a lot of people, and he's teaching people a lot of good stuff.

"In the spring, we would always have meetings up in his office where he would go over the same play for 30 minutes, and you're like, 'Geez, Louise, can I watch something else?' He's a big detail guy, and he's competitive."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

 

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