November 8th, 2010 11:19 AM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: South Carolina
Tags: Against Kentucky, Barring Gator, Ellis Johnson, South Carolina
On Saturday night in Gainesville, Steve Spurrier will take South Carolina’s football team to a place it’s never been before — to the doorstep of the SEC Championship Game.
It’s taken six years for the Ol’ Ball Coach to reach a de facto SEC East title game. He’s landed some tall, fast receivers in that time. He’s signed a solid prospect at quarterback and — for the most part — stood beside him through thick and thin. He’s hired a defensive line coach who he calls one of the best in America. And he’s got a defensive coordinator (“head coach of defense”) in Ellis Johnson who is awfully well-respected.
But when all is said and done, you can trace Carolina’s progress this season to two obvious factors:
1. The SEC East is down
2. Marcus Lattimore
Like it or not, Carolina is a one-man team. When Lattimore does well, the Gamecocks do well. When he doesn’t or when he is slowed by injury, the Cocks crumble.
Lattimore has averaged less than 3.9 yards per carry against just two Carolina foes: Auburn and Arkansas. In both cases, Carolina lost.
Against Kentucky, the Cocks had a 28-10 halftime lead when Lattimore injured his ankle. In the second half, USC was shut out and Kentucky roared from behind to win as Lattimore watched from the sideline.
The following week, without Lattimore on the field, Carolina struggled to subdue feeble Vanderbilt.
This past Saturday, Lattimore suffered a bruised knee early against Arkansas. Trailing big and with his star back showing less than his usual power, Spurrier said that he “told the running back coach, let’s sort of let him rest and live to fight another day.” The coach said this weekend that he thinks Lattimore will “be OK this week.”
He’d better hope so. Florida’s rush defense has been a middle-of-the-pack bunch in the SEC. If Carolina has any hope of winning at The Swamp, they’ll need to attack the Gators on the ground.
Spurrier has used Lattimore as a battering ram in just two games this season — 29 carries versus Tennessee and 37 carries versus Georgia. He needs to do so again this weekend.
Barring Gator turnovers, if Lattimore carries the ball fewer than 25 times against Florida on Saturday, the Gamecocks will not win.
Spurrier needs to be patient and he needs to run Lattimore down after down… even if the big bruiser isn’t having early success. If he’s healthy, Lattimore can wear down a defense. He can win a game by himself in the second half. Through nine games, no one else on South Carolina’s team has proven that they can do likewise.
Carolina is a one-man team. They’ll need to realize that, embrace that, and play like that if they’re to beat the Gators on Saturday.
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