Sunday, October 16, 2011

South Carolina can't overcome this one

One of the three best running backs* in the country is done for the year:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina star tailback Marcus Lattimore is out for the season with a knee injury.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier announced Lattimore's status Sunday, saying "our worst fears were realized."

Spurrier said Lattimore, a sophomore, has ligament and cartilage damage in his knee sustained when he was blocking in South Carolina's 14-12 win over Mississippi State. Spurrier said doctors want the knee to stabilize for a few weeks before operating on Lattimore.

Spurrier wasn't kidding about the "worst fears" thing. Losing Stephen Garcia was a relatively minor inconvenience since he had already played himself out of the starting job; losing Marcus Lattimore is flat-out devastating. There's no way to sugarcoat it.

Lattimore has been the offense for significant chunks of some significant games -- he's fourth in the country with 164 carries, which is crazy considering who his coach is -- and that role was only gonna get bigger with Connor Shaw taking over at QB and a bunch of not-so-easy games coming up. And unless there's some way for Alshon Jeffery to take over Lattimore's 30 touches a game, there's nothing even close to an adequate replacement; the next-most-prolific running back on the roster is sophomore Bruce Ellington, who has a whopping 11 carries this year (and four of them came on Saturday).

Whatever South Carolina was planning offensively is now irrelevant. It's Connor Shaw time, which probably isn't what Spurrier had in mind after just seven games into a season that seemed to be set up perfectly for an SEC East title.

I mentioned this the other day after Garcia officially got booted, but it bears repeating here: South Carolina's schedule the rest of the way is pretty rough. It goes like this ...

@ Tennessee
@ Arkansas
The Citadel

... and doesn't include a lot of easy wins. There probably won't be any easy wins from here on out considering that the offense now consists of a QB with two games of meaningful experience and a running back with zero games of meaningful experience; points will be limited. The defense is excellent, but I just don't see it mattering in a couple of those games (Arkansas and Clemson, specifically) unless Melvin Ingram reverts to early-season form and produces a touchdown every week or Spurrier transforms Shaw turns into Danny Wuerffel circa 1996. Losing a guy who touches the ball on every other play because he's too good not to is just an awful break.

The one winner: Georgia. A 10-2 record (thanks in part to a laughably easy late-season schedule) and division title are both there for the taking. The losers: Everybody else, but mostly South Carolina and the people who enjoyed watching Lattimore be a man among boys (which is everybody except the teams left on South Carolina's schedule). At least he'll be back next year.

*Trent Richardson and LaMichael James might be better, although the comparison is tough since they all have massively different styles. All three are awesome.


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