When news broke on Wednesday that South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore had missed practice with a bruised hip, the outlook of Saturday’s game changed. With their offensive star far from 100%, the Gamecocks’ chances against the Florida Gators took a hit. That is, if he is truly limited.
At this point, we’re hearing that Lattimore “might not start.” That’s very different than “will be out.” If Lattimore doesn’t start, but is available, it means he can play if needed. If South Carolina takes care of business without him, Steve Spurrier and the rest of the Gamecocks’ staff would be comfortable with him watching from the sidelines. That, though, isn’t desired. South Carolina wants Lattimore to play and may even need him to play.
The Gamecocks are much more than Lattimore and what he brings to the team, but there’s no denying his star status and what he brings to their offense. He has three 100-yards games and has scored each time South Carolina has taken the field this season. If you need proof of what he can do, you can simply go to his stat line from the 2010 game against the Gators: 40 carries, 212 yards, three touchdowns. He was a true freshman at the time and the Gamecocks won by 22.
But, as I said, he isn’t the entire team. South Carolina took care of business in 2011 against Florida without him. Sure, it was a very different Gators’ team just one season ago, but a win is a win is a win and the Gamecocks are 6-1 in games he hasn’t appeared in. Think about that for just a moment. They are 20-7 with Lattimore, but their win percentage is actually better without him. Is he an important part of their offense? Definitely. Can they win without him? They sure can.
For now, his status is uncertain. It shouldn’t matter to the Gators though. In the first half of the regular season, Florida has proven to have one of the better defenses in the nation. The Gators are playing fast (which is nothing new), but are also playing a physical style of football that was missing at times the past two seasons. Marcus Lattimore or not, the Gators’ game plan doesn’t change.
If Lattimore can go, they have to contain him. If he can’t, they shift their attention to Kenny Miles and Mike Davis (yes, that Mike Davis). Miles, a senior, has gone over 10 carries 11 times in his career. Six of those times came way back in 2009. Davis, a freshman, has 13 career carries to his credit. He’s averaging 9 yards per carry, but that number is lifted by a 50-yard gain against UAB. There isn’t a lot to the Gamecocks’ run game from the running backs not named Marcus Lattimore, but the Gators should still stick to their plan. And they will.
This game means too much to Florida to deviate from what works and what they hope to do. Injury reports, whether real or not (as some speculate Spurrier is playing mind games with the Gators), don’t matter much. The Gators are preparing for another hard-fought SEC battle. The Gamecocks without Lattimore are still a very good, talented team. They still have playmakers on offense and a frightening defense. And that describes Florida as well. Lattimore or no Lattimore, the Gators can win this game, if they prepare for it and play it their way.