Welcome to the SEC race, South Carolina.
Marcus Lattimore introduced himself to the nation Saturday and carried the No. 24 Gamecocks to a 17-6 victory against No. 22 Georgia in front of 80,974 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium.
“We do have a chance to do something if, if we can keep getting better and keep progressing,” coach Steve Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) woke up this morning leading the SEC East and they have their star freshman to thank. Lattimore gained 182 yards and scored two touchdowns on 37 carries, and he put the Bulldogs away on a punishing fourth-quarter drive in which he carried eight times and gained 56 yards to set up Spencer Lanning’s 24-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining.
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“We had a high tempo, and they were just standing around, and we were just running the ball right up the gut,” Lattimore said of the final drive. “They didn’t know what to do.”
South Carolina’s next-to-last drive featured two passes and no first downs. On the final drive, Lattimore got the ball on eight of 10 plays.
“We finally smartened up and said, ‘Run Marcus Lattimore every play,’” Spurrier said. “Obviously, Marcus is a very, very good running back. He can hit a crack; he can break tackles; he can run forward, and he can hold onto the ball. He is obviously a big-time running back.”
Lattimore’s 182 yards were the most by a Gamecock since Derek Watson had 215 against Eastern Michigan in 2000. They were the second most by a Gamecock freshman, trailing Brandon Bennett’s 278 yards against East Tennessee State in 1991.
“He’ll be one of the best in our league for years to come and probably play on Sundays, too,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the story of the game was: No. 21 for them. Marcus Lattimore was certainly the most dominating player in the game. Coach Spurrier did a nice job of planning for that young man to carry the ball and just keep feeding him.”
South Carolina held the ball 35 minutes and 15 seconds and ran 69 plays to the Bulldogs’ 47. Lattimore, who had one reception for 16 yards, touched the ball on 55 percent of South Carolina’s plays and gained 56 percent of its 354 yards.
“We knew coming into the game that their ends were playing wide, and we could just gash them up the middle,” Lattimore said. Center T.J. Johnson “did a great job of moving that nose guard. We just kept gashing them because they were playing wide and couldn’t figure it out.”
South Carolina rushed for 224 yards against Georgia (1-1, 0-1 SEC) and its first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“That little inside zone play, the NFL doesn’t run that play,” Spurrier said. “That’s a new little scheme (for Grantham) I guess. I’m sure they knew we were going to run it, but they didn’t stop it much.”
The Gamecocks took the ball to start the game and took it to the Bulldogs, driving 79 yards in 16 plays and 8:02. Lattimore carried the ball 10 times on the drive and had 103 yards on 21 carries by halftime, when the Gamecocks led 14-3.
South Carolina’s defense held the Bulldogs to 253 yards and sacked freshman quarterback Aaron Murray three times. Safety DeVonte Holloman and linebacker Josh Dickerson each had seven tackles for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina’s first-team defense has yet to allow a touchdown this season, but even defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the story of Saturday’s game was Lattimore.
“To do it this quickly, this well,” Johnson said, “I think anybody would have to be surprised. Very few guys have stepped into this conference and done those types of things.
“We knew he was good player, but a lot of times good players come in and they are just good players. I don’t want to jinx him, but I think he’s special.”