COLUMBIA -- In a dark room deep inside Williams-Brice Stadium, Marcus Lattimore's smile lit up the space. Understandably, his excitement couldn't be hidden.
South Carolina had just run his favorite play, the inside zone. The Gamecocks ran it again and again at Georgia. And then they ran it at the Bulldogs some more.
Riding the freshman sensation 37 times, many of the carries coming on the same play, No. 24 South Carolina ran past No. 22 Georgia, 17-6, on Saturday afternoon before 80,974 fans in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
"Well," Georgia coach Mark Richt said, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the story of the game was."
Richt's right. It was Lattimore, Lattimore and more Lattimore.
In his first SEC game, and only his second game overall, Lattimore ran 37 times for 182 yards and two scores. It was the 15th-best rushing game in the program's history, the second best by a freshman.
"I can't say I was shocked that he would have a performance like this,"
Richt said, "just because I know he is a heck of a back."
The win is a vital one to South Carolina's season -- and perennial dream of playing in Atlanta as the division champ.
After downing the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 SEC), the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0) host Furman next week and then travel to Auburn for what will be another gigantic ballgame.
USC hadn't won against Georgia in Columbia since 2000.
"It's good to beat Georgia," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who made a living of doing just that at Florida but had only done it once before in five tries at USC.
Then again, Spurrier didn't have Lattimore in those games.
The Byrnes product had rushed for 103 yards on 21 carries by the half, lifting USC to a 14-3 halftime lead. He scored on a pair of 2-yard runs, including one just before the half.
After Georgia sort of took him away during the third quarter and first part of the fourth, Lattimore surfaced again at a critical time.
On a game-icing field goal drive, Lattimore ran eight times for 56 yards, demoralizing Georgia with each touch.
"We had a high tempo," Lattimore said. "They were just standing around, looking around. We were just running the ball, running right up the gut. They didn't know what to do."
South Carolina received the ball with 8:19 to play. Spencer Lanning's 24-yard field goal, which sealed the game by putting USC ahead by 11 points, sailed through with 1:12 remaining.
For the game, the Gamecocks ran 22 more plays and held the ball 10 minutes longer than Georgia.
Most of Lattimore's runs on the drive, of course, were on the inside zone play. It's one Lattimore says he ran consistently at Byrnes.
Evidently it still works in the SEC. And here's how it works: The center, T.J. Johnson, clears out the nose tackle and leaves a hole for Lattimore between the left guard and where Johnson started out.
The line deserves credit and Spurrier gave it to the much-maligned unit, but Lattimore dragged around would-be Georgia tacklers all day. He proved sensational after contact, getting yards when none seemed possible.
One carry in particular, a 6-yard run for a first down, stood out. He should have been stopped at the line by two Bulldogs, including one blitzing. But he stayed on his feet and charged forward to continue a drive.
"I think he's special," USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said.
Digest this stat: South Carolina had rushed for a total of 58 yards on 33 carries in the past three home games against Georgia. Lattimore had 50 yards by himself on the opening drive. And his 37 carries were two off the school record.
Still, the game wasn't all about Lattimore.
What South Carolina's defense did, holding Georgia to two short Blair Walsh field goals, is certainly noteworthy.
It's the first time the Bulldogs have been relegated to a single-digit point total since November 2004. It's the first time since South Carolina's 2007 victory in Athens that the Bulldogs didn't score a touchdown.
In two games, against supposedly high-octane offenses, the Gamecocks have only given up one touchdown. And that came in garbage time against Southern Miss.
"It means a lot," USC safety DeVonte Holloman said. "We pride ourselves on not giving up many points."
There weren't many sensational plays from the defense, which at times did surrender chunks of yardage. But it always came up with a big stop.
None bigger than Holloman stripping Georgia runner Washaun Ealey on the 2-yard line, with the Bulldogs threatening late in the third quarter. Holloman had given up a 55-yard play earlier in the drive, biting on a pump fake.
Holloman's high school teammate, Stephon Gilmore, scooped up the ball and returned it to the 14.
Georgia then went three-and-out on its following two possessions, starting those drives at its own 10- and 9-yard line.
By the time the Bulldogs got the ball back, with all of its timeouts spent, the game was virtually sealed. Georgia drove to the USC 32-yard line, but the game ended with Gamecocks defensive end Devin Taylor slinging Bulldogs freshman quarterback Aaron Murray to the turf for a sack.
It was a snapshot Gamecocks fans will treasure, along with those 37 runs by their newest and perhaps brightest star.