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September 11, 2010

More, More Lattimore

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This is why.

Saturday showed the exact reasons why Marcus Lattimore was one of the most hotly pursued recruits in South Carolina state history. A combination of speed, power and vision combined with the instant readiness to be a college back had recruiters showing up at Byrnes High School by his sophomore year.

In just his second career game, and first against SEC competition, South Carolina proclaimed its relief as winner of the Lattimore Sweepstakes. The No. 24 Gamecocks crunched Georgia 17-6, the great majority of it set up by Lattimore.

Steve Spurrier toned it early by going to the prized freshman 10 times on the first drive. Lattimore carried for 50 combined yards, including a 2-yard touchdown burst, but it was only the start of his day.

By the time it was over, Lattimore had 182 yards on 37 carries, the third-most single-game attempts in school history (Ron Bass had 39 against North Carolina in 1974 and George Rogers had two games of 38 carries). He scored both of USC's touchdowns and also caught a 16-yard pass.

And he absolutely controlled the opponent, ripping through tackles as the Bulldogs stubbornly refused to shore up the middle of their defense.

"Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the story of the game was," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Number 21 Marcus Lattimore was certainly the most dominating player in the game."

The man of the hour sat down, exhausted but happy, and simply shrugged.

"We knew coming into the game that the ends were playing wide, and we could just gash them up the middle," Lattimore said. "We just kept gashing them because they played wide and couldn't figure it out."

In short, Georgia's refusal to move more defenders into the box played right into USC's hands. Although it may have been excessive to use Lattimore almost exclusively to move the ball, Spurrier knew it was necessary -- and it paid off.

"That's all we ran at Byrnes," Lattimore said. "That's my favorite play."

The speed and power became a nightmare for the Bulldogs, who couldn't stop Lattimore at the beginning or end. During the final drive, USC trying to wind as much clock as possible, Spurrier told Lattimore he had to be the man and the freshman did so. He broke through tackles for one 24-yard gain and ran over defenders on a 16-yarder, leaving cleat marks in the proud silver britches of the opponent.

"That little inside zone play, the NFL doesn't run that play," Spurrier said, referencing Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme that he brought with him from the Dallas Cowboys. "I'm sure they knew we'd run it, but they certainly didn't stop it much."

Spurrier gushed about Lattimore's preparation, crediting the way the back squares his shoulders and never gets hit from the side. Balanced and able to cut back and forth across the field, Lattimore proved on Saturday why he was so lauded in high school.

Tired as he was after hauling the ball so many times, Lattimore still went back in there. He pointed out that he once carried 40 times in high school (yardage: 305) and if he was asked to carry 37 times against Furman next week or Auburn the week after, so be it.

"(The pace) is what I'm used to," he said. "I did it in high school."

He's not in high school anymore.

USC is glad of it.

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