Moving forward without Lattimore

There were so many things to like about Marcus Lattimore as a football player.

But without a doubt, his most endearing quality was how team-oriented he was despite being such an incredible talent.

Now that Lattimore is out for the rest of the season after suffering ligament and cartilage damage to his left knee in South Carolina’s 14-12 win over Mississippi State on Saturday, the Gamecocks will need Lattimore’s team-first mentality more than ever.

They’ll need it from every player and need it for every game.

Losing Lattimore was a huge blow, no doubt. But championship teams find a way to overcome, and they also learn to lean on each other when the breaks don’t go their way.

Lattimore won’t be on the field to help the Gamecocks get back to the SEC championship game, but he’s provided a road map with his infectious spirit.

It figures that Lattimore would get hurt on a play where he was blocking for somebody else.

Already, some have questioned why South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier would have his franchise running back out on the perimeter blocking on a play where he was suspect to getting rolled up from behind or the side.

It was a nasty looking injury when it happened, but those things unfortunately happen in football.

Lattimore was doing everything he could to wall off his man, the same way he would bull over a defender at the goal line or accelerate through a hole on his way to a 50-yard touchdown run.

That’s what makes him so special, and it’s why he’ll be back better than ever.

Nobody will work harder in rehabilitating that knee than Lattimore.

As the Gamecocks go forward, they have to embrace that same attitude.

It might be the defense that saves them in some games. It might be Alshon Jeffery in other games. There will also be games where players who’ve languished in the shadows need to stand up and be counted.

The Gamecocks’ margin for error the rest of the way is razor thin. With Stephen Garcia gone, sophomore Connor Shaw is the only quarterback on the team with any experience.

The depth behind Lattimore has also been evaporating all season. True freshman Brandon Wilds is now the backup after starting the season fifth on the depth chart at tailback.

There’s a chance juniors Kenny Miles (wrist) and Eric Baker (ankle) could be back in time for the Tennessee game on Oct. 29. Spurrier also said Bruce Ellington could get some snaps at tailback.

Regardless of who’s available, we’ll find out a lot about this South Carolina team over the next few weeks.

The Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1) still control their own destiny in the Eastern Division race, but two of their remaining three SEC games are on the road.

They rode Lattimore down the stretch a year ago to make their first-ever appearance in the SEC championship game. He carried the ball 80 times for 426 yards in the Gamecocks’ last three SEC games. They won’t have that luxury this season.

But thanks to Lattimore’s shining example, they should certainly have his deep-rooted sense of team.