COLUMBIA — Marcus Lattimore, easily the most valuable South Carolina football player, is out for the season with left knee ligament and cartilage damage suffered in Saturday’s 14-12 win at Mississippi State.

“Our worst fears were realized,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday.

Lattimore was third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing as a freshman and second this year, behind Alabama’s Trent Richardson.

The sophomore running back will have full surgery in three weeks, Spurrier said.

“We’re all disappointed,” Spurrier said, “but we all realize life has to go on. Somebody has to try and fill

his shoes, and some other positions really need to pick it up. Our

offensive line needs to play better — maybe our receivers, our quarterbacks. We all need to step it up a little if we’re going to have an opportunity at a big season.”

No. 14 South Carolina, 6-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play, has a bye week before playing at Tennessee on Oct. 29. With fifth-year quarterback Stephen Garcia kicked off the team last week and the Lattimore injury, the defending SEC East champs need the extra adjustment time.

At 116.9 yards per game, Lattimore is second in total offense on a team averaging 398.3 yards of offense. Lattimore also is South Carolina’s second-leading receiver, with 19 catches for 182 yards.

Spurrier said freshman Brandon Wilds “most likely” will start at Tennessee. Wilds ran five times for eight yards at Mississippi State.

Lattimore likely will be replaced by a committee, including junior Kenny Miles, expected back on the depth chart after missing time with a wrist injury, and sophomore Bruce Ellington, the versatile Wildcat quarterback and slot receiver.

No doubt, depth at running back is a problem. Speedy freshman Shon Carson would be the starter today but he suffered a torn ACL against Georgia, an injury that also pushes back his South Carolina baseball debut.

South Carolina on Saturday also lost backup fullback and special teams player Matt Coffee to a season-ending knee injury.

Lattimore was injured while blocking — a Mississippi State player fell on the back of Lattimore’s planted left leg — during a 13-yard Ellington run with 8:50 remaining and the Bulldogs ahead, 10-7. Strangely, Lattimore was having one of his worst college games, only 39 yards rushing on 17 carries with three catches for 29 yards.

“Marcus has always had a wonderful attitude,” Spurrier said. “I’m sure he’ll approach this as positive as he possibly can.”

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593.