Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina’s All-SEC running back and offensive stalwart, will miss the remainder of the season due to ligament damage in his left knee, coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday.
“Our worst fears were realized,” Spurrier said. “It was a very unfortunate, flukish-type injury.”
Spurrier declined to specify which ligament was injured but said Lattimore will have surgery in three weeks after swelling in his leg goes down. Lattimore also has cartilage damage, Spurrier said.
“We do have one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country in Dr. Jeff Guy, and we feel like next year Marcus will come back stronger than ever,” Spurrier said. “We are all disappointed, but we all realize life has to go on and somebody has to try to fill his shoes. Some other positions really need to pick it up.”
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Lattimore is doing “OK,” Spurrier said.
“Like I told him, ‘Time heals a lot of wounds; just give it time and get yourself ready to come back stronger next season,’” Spurrier said. “You can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Marcus has always had a positive attitude. I’m sure he’ll approach this as positively as he possibly can.”
The news came as little surprise to anyone who saw Lattimore’s injury Saturday during a 14-12 win over Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.
Lattimore, who was the nation’s leading rusher after three games this season and has 2,015 yards in 20 collegiate games, was hurt during the fourth quarter while blocking for Bruce Ellington when a Bulldogs defender fell on his knee trying to tackle Ellington.
The severity of the injury was clear as Lattimore’s mother, Yolanda Smith, joined her son on the sideline and sobbed while talking with team doctors. Several of Lattimore’s teammates huddled around him following the game-winning drive and prayed.
Lattimore, who has led the No. 14 Gamecocks in rushing in every game this season, left Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville wearing a large brace on his leg and walking on crutches. He did not speak to reporters.
Lattimore scored his 30th career touchdown on a 4-yard run against Mississippi State. He is three touchdowns shy of the school’s career record. The 6-foot, 232-pound sophomore gained 39 yards on 17 carries Saturday. He is second in the SEC and 13th in the country in rushing with an average of 116.9 yards per game. He has 818 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Lattimore has 1,000 all-purpose yards this season — 35 percent of South Carolina’s offense.
His loss comes one week after the Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1 SEC) dismissed senior quarterback Stephen Garcia from the team after Garcia violated his zero-tolerance conduct policy by failing a substance test. Of the three offensive stars who were expected to lead South Carolina during another run at the SEC East championship, only wide receiver Alshon Jeffery remains.
Freshman Brandon Wilds of Blythewood becomes the Gamecocks’ starting tailback. Wilds started the season fifth on the depth chart. He didn’t get his first collegiate carry until the fourth game of the season. He has 13 carries for 75 yards this year.
The Gamecocks’ tailback depth slowly has been dwindling since the second week of the season, when freshman speedster Shon Carson tore his ACL against Georgia. Carson is out for the season. Junior Kenny Miles has missed the past three games with a wrist injury that requires a cast. Junior Eric Baker is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle. Miles and Baker have a chance to be back for South Carolina’s next game, Oct. 29 against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.
Sophomore Bruce Ellington could play more at running back, Spurrier said Sunday.
“If we did that, we wouldn’t tell you. We can’t put our game plan out in the paper,” Spurrier said. “But Bruce is at a lot of positions right now. I’m sure he’ll still be back there in that wildcat (quarterback spot).”