Saturday, March 2, 2024

Rocket Sanders transfers to South Carolina: Gamecocks land ex-Arkansas star to help struggling run game

Star running back Rocket Sanders is transferring to South Carolina for his senior season, he announced Wednesday. Sanders tallied over 2,200 yards rushing in three years at Arkansas. He was hampered by injuries this season but was electric in 2022 and could help jolt South Carolina’s struggling rushing attack.

The Gamecocks are a natural choice for Sanders. South Carolina offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains worked as Arkansas’ tight ends coach in 2021 and 2022 as Sanders established himself with the Razorbacks. Sanders finished second in the SEC in rushing with 1,443 yards in 2022 behind only Quinshon Judkins of Ole Miss and was tied for first in yards per carry at 6.5.

Sanders totaled just 209 yards on 62 carries in six appearances during the 2023 campaign, but he could be a game-changing addition for Loggains’ unit if he’s able to return to previous form in 2024. The former four-star prospect is a physical runner at 240 pounds and a proven pass-catcher with 49 receptions for 455 yards over his three seasons with the Razorbacks. 

South Carolina suffered from a lack of running back depth in 2023, ranking 126th nationally in rushing offense with just 85.1 yards per game on the ground. Division II transfer Mario Anderson led the Gamecocks in rushing with 707 yards and three touchdowns but entered the transfer portal after the season. 

Needed reinforcements

Aside from Anderson, South Carolina relied on converted receiver and former quarterback Dakereon Joyner at running back. The Gamecocks also used undersized all-purpose back Juju McDowell at the position. With a struggling offensive line and the SEC’s least-productive rushing attack, they limped to a 5-7 mark in coach Shane Beamer’s third season.

The program’s offseason work so far suggests Beamer is dedicated to ensuring running back depth won’t be an issue in 2024. In addition to Sanders, the Gamecocks landed a commitment from former North Texas running back Oscar Adaway III, who totaled 738 yards rushing on 6 yards per carry this season. Adaway totaled 1,935 yards in five years with the Mean Green. Three-star prospect Matthew Fuller from Jesup, Georgia is also a part of the Gamecocks’ 2024 recruiting class.

Where Rocket Sanders ranks

As of Wednesday morning, Sanders ranked as the No. 3 transfer running back of the 2024 class, according to 247Sports. The only players ranking ahead of him are former Florida back Trevor Etienne and ex-USC back Raleek Brown. Sanders is rated ahead of players such as former Ohio State back Chip Trayanum — who is headed to Kentucky — and Anderson, the transferring former Gamecock whose shoes he will help fill.

That ranking is a sign of Sanders’ potential and a nod to his 2022 productivity. If South Carolina can get its offensive line in order, Sanders should be able to reclaim the trajectory that once made him among the nation’s most productive offensive players.

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