COLUMBIA, S.C. – Somewhere about now, Marcus Lattimore is probably easing his way into a nice whirlpool bath.
Two games into his college career, including a bruising 37-carry, 182-yard rushing performance against Georgia on Saturday, it’s safe to say South Carolina isn’t easing its prized freshman running back into its offense.
“We look back and thought we probably should have given it to him 47 times,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
Yep, that’s the Head Ball Coach talking, the same guy who loves pitching it and catching it and the same guy who brought the Fun ‘n Gun offense to Florida.
But Spurrier also knows a stallion when he sees one. And after watching Lattimore pound on Georgia defenders, drag Georgia defenders with him and find the smallest of creases to run through in South Carolina’s 17-6 win at Williams-Brice Stadium, Spurrier’s not about to mess up a good thing when he sees one.
And by all accounts, the 6-foot, 218-pound Lattimore has a chance to be better than just good.
“When it came to tackling him, we just didn’t go a good job of knocking him back and wrapping him up,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But, again, he is a heck of a back.
“I think history will prove that he's one of the best.”
To give you an idea of what Lattimore meant to the Gamecocks, they had managed a total of 58 rushing yards in their past three home games against the Bulldogs.
On Saturday, Lattimore had at least that many yards after contact … in the first half.
And when the Gamecocks needed somebody to finish the game, Spurrier never blinked.
He was going to put it in No. 21’s hands.
Lattimore got it seven straight times, most of those zone read plays, the same play he ran over and over again at Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., on his way to becoming one of the most highly recruited running backs in the country last year.
“We knew coming into the game their ends were playing wide and we could gash them up the middle,” Lattimore said. “(Center) T.J. (Johnson) did a great job of moving their nose guard.”
And Lattimore did a great job of moving everybody else himself.
“His shoulder pads are almost always square when he hits that hole,” Spurrier said. “He’s never upright when guys hit him inside. He has a knack of running low and square to the ground. … He rarely gets knocked back.”
The Bulldogs never seemed to adjust. In fact, in vintage fashion, Spurrier took a little dig at Georgia first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who’d been in the NFL the past 11 seasons before coming back to college football.
“That little inside zone play, the NFL doesn’t run that play,” Spurrier said. “So that’s a new little scheme, I guess. Anyway, you’ll have to ask them. I’m sure they knew we were going to run it, but they certainly didn’t stop it much.”
Lattimore had 21 carries and 103 yards by halftime, but he was as strong in those seven consecutive carries to finish the game as he was in the Gamecocks’ 16-play, touchdown drive to open the game.
With the crowd chanting his name, Lattimore admitted he was tired.
“I was running on adrenalin that drive,” Lattimore said.
That’s more than he could say for the Bulldogs.
“We had a high tempo, and they were just standing around and looking around,” Lattimore said. “We were just running the ball, running right up the gut, and they didn’t know what to do.”
Jay Graham, South Carolina’s running backs coach, has been around a few good running backs in his time. For that matter, he was a pretty good running back himself at Tennessee, earning All-SEC honors in the mid 1990s.
But the last time Graham walked away from a game feeling the same way he did about a freshman running back in this league as he did Saturday about Lattimore was after watching Tennessee’s Jamal Lewis carve through Georgia for 232 yards in 1997.
“I remember thinking, ‘He’s going to be a great one,’ ” Graham said. “It’s same way I felt (Saturday). There are a lot of variables involved. For instance, does he stay healthy? But Marcus has everything it takes to be a great one.”
Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, saw Lattimore all preseason from a defensive perspective. He had a pretty good idea what was coming.
“I knew he was different,” Johnson said. “We all knew he was different. Hell, all the recruiting experts knew he was different. Everybody knew he was a good player, but a lot of times good players come in and they’re just good players. A lot of times they come in, and they’re special.
“I don’t want to jinx him, but I think he’s special.”