GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier saw Marcus Lattimore during the middle part of last week, he was wondering about the freshman's bruised left knee.
"You ready for about 40 carries this week, Marcus?" Spurrier quipped, grinning at his star running back.
Spurrier wasn't joking. Lattimore received exactly that many handoffs in South Carolina's epic win at Florida, one that delivered the school's first SEC East title.
Lattimore ran 40 times for 212 yards in the 36-14 victory, scoring three touchdowns -- two more than the Gators' offense had all night.
"Yeah, I knew he was serious," Lattimore said of that conversation about his workload. "When he says something, he means it."
After the game, Spurrier was talking with a Florida writer when Lattimore walked past him to go into the postgame interview room.
"We won this division the day we signed him," Spurrier told the
writer, nodding toward Lattimore, who picked USC over Auburn and Penn State.
It was Lattimore's third 100-yard game of the season, following up his 182 yards against Georgia and 184 yards against Tennessee.
In nine games, Lattimore has rushed for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns. Just imagine where he'd be if he didn't miss the Vanderbilt game and the second half of a Kentucky game in which he had amassed 201 total yards in the first half. (An ankle injury sidelined him in those games.)
He's had five multi-touchdown games and scored in all but one game. Lattimore has carried the ball 202 times, has 17 catches -- and has zero fumbles.
"You're right," Spurrier said, "but that's not something we're supposed to talk about."
At some point during the game Saturday, he passed Thomas Dendy's 28-year-old USC freshman rushing record.
Lattimore is second in the SEC in rushing, and first among running backs, with 107.1 yards a game. He's gaining, too, on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (117.9 yards a game).
The best game of Lattimore's freshman season immediately followed his worst. The Duncan native got hit in the first quarter of the Arkansas game, bruising his left knee, and he was never the same after that.
He ran just 11 times for 30 yards as the Razorbacks dismantled the Gamecocks in Columbia.
Maybe he was just saving up for the Gators. By the end of the first quarter Saturday, Lattimore had run 11 times for 60 yards.
Lattimore's 243 total yards, including 31 receiving yards, were 17 more than Florida had as a team. He outscored the Gators' offense 18-6.
"I'm always pretty confident in him," quarterback Stephen Garcia said. "He was breaking tackles left and right. It's hard to tackle him.
"I'm glad I play offense and I'm on the same team as him. It's got to be frustrating for people to watch him run up and down the field."
Riding Lattimore, the player known as "the Horse" at Byrnes High School, the Gamecocks held the ball for 40 minutes and 46 seconds.
"That was the plan," Lattimore said.
The postgame scene was a pretty humorous one, with Lattimore greeting reporters still in full uniform.
Awkwardly, bulky shoulder pads jutting out, Lattimore twisted his way through a tangled mess of cameras and cords, trying to get to the lectern. In some respects, the obstacle course represented more of a challenge than Florida did.
With a straight look on his face, Lattimore began talking in the summer about winning the SEC title.
Only two teams still have a chance, and his is one of them. Saturday being a strong example, Lattimore is a big, big reason why.
"I've gotten more comfortable as the season has gone on," Lattimore said. "I feel like I can play well in the SEC."
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