Lattimore carries load for No. 13 Gamecocks
COLUMBIA -- Steve Spurrier wasn't sure if his team would be able to run against Georgia.
South Carolina's freshman running back, playing in only his second college game, had more confidence.
"We knew coming in that their ends were playing wide and that we could just gash them up the middle," Marcus Lattimore said, just after running for 182 yards and two scores in the Gamecocks' 17-6 victory against the Bulldogs. "We just kept gashing them because they were playing wide."
But it wasn't just that. Often, there weren't holes. Often, Lattimore made things happen on his own.
The replays border on stunning, with the 6-foot, 218-pound back fighting through Georgia defenders, falling forward for additional yards.
"I don't think I've ever had a running back break as many tackles as Marcus Lattimore did yesterday," Spurrier said Sunday, the day his Gamecocks rose from No. 24 to 13 in The Associated Press poll. "I think the Georgia coaches really had a good scheme of things. Their guys just didn't tackle him.
"It was amazing to see how many tackles he broke. We didn't count them, but it was a whole bunch of them. We were very fortunate Marcus had an excellent day."
Most of the yardage came on an inside zone play, in which center T.J. Johnson clears out the opposing nose tackle.
It was the go-to call of an 11-play field goal drive that ate up half of the fourth quarter clock and ended in a field goal to make it a two-possession game.
Lattimore got the ball eight of the 10 offensive plays on the drive, including seven consecutive carries He had runs of 16 and 24 on the possession.
"I'm sure that Georgia defensive coordinator (got frustrated)," Spurrier said, referring to new Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham, previously in the NFL. "The NFL doesn't run that play. That's a new little scheme, I guess. You'll have to ask them about that. I'm sure they knew we were going to run it, but they certainly didn't stop it much."
A lot of focus has fallen on the fact that Lattimore ran the ball 37 times. That's the most carries for a back since Spurrier arrived at USC in 2005.
Spurrier pointed out that a couple of Florida backs, Errict Rhett and Fred Taylor, once ran about that many times in his offense. But Rhett, Spurrier said, did it in a driving rainstorm. And Taylor did it against a porous Penn State rush defense in a bowl game.
It's certainly the exception rather than the norm for a coach that played quarterback in college and has based his coaching career on the position ever since.
Both Spurrier and Lattimore agreed that the load was heavy, but that the first-year player could handle it. And he could handle it again, if need be.
"Today we needed him to carry 37," Spurrier said after the game. "If we need him to carry 37 against Auburn or Alabama or Tennessee or Florida or maybe Furman next week … he came here to run the ball.
"If you ask him, I think he'll tell you, '37 isn't too much for me.' "
Spurrier acknowledged that, with the gameplan suddenly Lattimore-centric, a lot of others didn't get involved.
He suggested that those players would be more eager to get on the field Saturday against Furman (7 p.m., pay-per-view).
Among them will be Kenny Miles, the 2009 leading rusher who only played a handful of snaps and didn't have a carry against the Bulldogs.
Freshmen Ace Sanders and Connor Shaw also didn't have an impact Saturday. Sanders had 100 total yards in the opener, including a 53-yard run on a reverse. Shaw spelled starter Stephen Garcia at times against Southern Miss.
Speaking of Garcia, Saturday wasn't the redshirt junior's finest of efforts. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 165 yards, but Garcia was often rattled by pressure and made several poor throws and decisions.
He was sacked five times, including several times as he attempted to scramble away from linemen.
"We're going to work on throwing the ball some this week," Spurrier said. "You get to these games down the road, and I don't know if we're going to be able to just run it to win the game."
It worked Saturday, though.
It's through just two weeks of the long season, but the Gamecocks are currently 33rd in the country in rushing yards a game, with 206.5 a game. That's sixth in the SEC for a team that has been last in each of the past three seasons.
Spurrier said the Gamecocks emerged relatively healthy. Starting right tackle Hutch Eckerson (ankle) left the game and will be evaluated this week.
Defensive head coach Ellis Johnson said after the game that starting linebacker Shaq Wilson's bad hamstring is "feeling better." Johnson said that Wilson would return, ideally, in time for the Sept. 28 Auburn game. If he isn't healthy by the Oct. 2 open date, Johnson said the coaching staff will strongly consider redshirting him.