Midway through the fourth quarter of a 17--6 win over Georgia last September, true freshman running back Marcus Lattimore had barely taken the handoff before being smothered by a blitz four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Soon he was facedown on the turf—but not before picking up six yards and diving for a first down with four defenders strewn in his wake. "His best talent is his ability to shed tacklers," coach Steve Spurrier says. "Before Marcus we hadn't been running worth a crap here at South Carolina."
Now the Gamecocks seemingly can't be stopped. With a knack for turning busted plays into highlights—he carried the ball 37 times and broke 42 tackles against the Bulldogs—Lattimore was the consensus national freshman of the year after rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. He ran for five more TDs than the team did in 2009. Already factoring into the Heisman mix, Lattimore says, "I do want to put myself among the best to ever play."
But the more touches he gets, the worse off South Carolina could be. With the leading receiver in the SEC last year, junior Alshon Jeffery, spreading defenses and Lattimore shredding them up the middle, the Gamecocks should have one of the country's most balanced attacks. But they still ran the ball nearly 60% of the time in 2010, and uncertainty under center threatens to make them even more predictable. "We'd love to get closer to a 50-50 balance," Spurrier says. "If we could steady play at quarterback, we could have a really good offense."
Fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia, who was reinstated in early August after serving his fifth suspension, will compete with sophomore Connor Shaw for playing time even though Garcia has started 28 straight games. He threw for 3,059 yards last season, most among returning SEC quarterbacks, and led the Gamecocks to a 35--21 upset over No. 1 Alabama by completing 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three TDs. He also led the conference with 14 interceptions. "We hope to mix it up this year," Spurrier says, "but if we need to run Marcus 30, 40 times a game, he'll do it."
3 vs. East Carolina (in Charlotte)
10 at Georgia
15 at Mississippi St.
29 at Tennessee
5 at Arkansas
19 The Citadel
At 5'7", he must come up big as a slot receiver to take the pressure off fellow wideout Jeffery.
The nation's top recruit has the size (6'6'', 254 pounds) and the speed to be a third-and-long terror.
The 6'7", 260-pound rush specialist had 12 tackles for loss and 7 ½ sacks in '10, along with 11 QB hurries.
Coach Steve Spurrier (7th year)
2010 Record 9--5 (5--3 in SEC)
Final AP Rank 22
Returning Starters 14
Offense 7, Defense 7
GREG NELSON (LATTIMORE)
While Spurrier would prefer a more balanced offense, when the Gamecocks' passing game misfires, he can always turn to the tackle-breaking Lattimore.
MARK ZEROF/US PRESSWIRE (TAYLOR)