Marcus Lattimore makes SEC debut to remember

The chant came with just under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“Latti-more! Latti-more! Latti-more!”

Having made his SEC debut his own private launch party by running roughshod over a revamped Georgia defense to the tune of 182 yards on 37 carries, Lattimore soaked in the chant that South Carolina fans had been dying to scream since the Gamecocks signed the heralded recruit in February.

“I heard them chanting my name,” said Lattimore, who missed tying the school record for carries by two while rushing for both of the Gamecocks’ touchdowns.

“I was real tired, and that got me up to play that last drive on adrenaline.”

That drive, which ended in a game-sealing field goal for South Carolina and left just 1:02 on the game clock, was a back-breaker for a Georgia defense that could not get off the field or make the adjustments necessary to stop the freshman sensation. Starting at their own 37 with 8:19 left and leading by a scant six points, the Gamecocks iced the contest with a grueling 57-yard, 11-play drive, eight of which plays were simple inside handoffs to Lattimore.

“[Coach Steve Spurrier] told me on the last drive they were going to go to me every time,” Lattimore said. “The inside zone is our favorite play. I ran that for four years [in high school]. That’s my favorite play.”

Lattimore credited his remarkable success to both scheme and conditioning.

“Our offensive line was in better shape than their defensive line,” Lattimore said. “We knew coming into the game [that] their ends were playing wide and that we could gash them up the middle. [Gamecocks center] T.J. [Johnson] did a great job moving that noseguard of theirs, and we just kept gashing them because they kept playing wide and couldn’t figure it out.

“We had a high tempo, and they were just standing around, looking around, and we were just running right up the gut and they didn’t know what to do.”

Rated by as the No. 1 high school running back in the nation last year, Lattimore spurned Auburn on signing day to the delight of South Carolina fans, fans who have been dreaming of the day Lattimore could bring respectability to a rushing offense that had finished last in the SEC the previous two seasons.

Running against Southern Miss in his first game, Lattimore showed flashes of brilliance while collecting a modest 54 yards rushing on 14 carries and two touchdowns. But against Georgia’s 3-4 defense, Lattimore became a leg-churning, forward-moving menace who never seemed to have a bad carry and consistently shed arm tackle after arm tackle.

“Obviously Marcus is a very, very good running back,” Spurrier said. “He can hit a crack, he can break tackles, he holds on to the ball.

“He was running it very well, and we probably should have given it to him 47 times for all those pass plays we were attempting that didn’t go very far.”

Lattimore and the dominant offensive line enabled the Gamecocks to claim a 35:15 to 24:45 advantage in time of possession and attempt only 17 passes to 52 rushes.

“Today, we needed [Lattimore] to carry 37 times,” Spurrier said. “If we need him to carry 37 against Auburn or Alabama or Tennessee or Florida, maybe Furman next week, I don’t know. He came here to run the ball. If you ask him, he’ll say ‘37 isn’t too much for me.'”