COLUMBIA, S.C. — The stage might be different for Marcus Lattimore now. But the magic he’s providing with the football is nothing new.
Lattimore, 24th-ranked South Carolina’s marvelous freshman tailback, ran for 182 yards and scored two touchdowns Saturday, helping the Gamecocks to a 17-6 victory against No. 22 Georgia.
“I wasn’t expecting this . . . but that’s what I’m used to,” said Lattimore of his 37-carry day that included one stretch of seven consecutive runs on a game-clinching drive late in the fourth quarter.
The game was played in front of 80,974 boisterous fans at Williams-Brice Stadium, another kind of atmosphere from when Lattimore was a highly sought recruit just up the road at Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes High.
“That,” Lattimore said of the noise and intensity of Saturday afternoon, “was a little different.”
Lattimore’s quick emergence as South Carolina’s go-to guy on offense coincides with what the Gamecocks hope is the beginning of a run to a first-ever SEC Eastern Division title. Saturday’s victory against their usual nemesis Georgia gives South Carolina (2-0, 1-0 SEC) an early leg up in the standings.
Lattimore, who gained 54 yards in a season-opening victory against Southern Mississippi, bruised the Bulldogs defense for 103 yards in the first half, then wore them down late.
“We look back and thought we should have given it to him 47 times,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. “We had tremendous confidence in Marcus. He knows the offense as well as any running back. He’s obviously a big-time running back.”
On South Carolina’s final drive and with the Gamecocks leading 14-6 with 8 minutes, 19 seconds remaining Spurrier pulled Lattimore aside and told him to expect the ball on every play. It didn’t quite work out that way, but Lattimore was called on eight times in a 10-play drive that eventually produced a 24-yard field goal by Spencer Lanning with 1:12 left.
South Carolina called the same play an inside zone run over left guard Garrett Chisolm and center T.J. Johnson each time.
“I ran that play four years in high school,” said Lattimore.
Said Spurrier: “Our guys just blocked it well. I’m sure (Georgia) knew we’d run it, but they certainly didn’t stop it much.”
Lattimore had scored his first touchdown on South Carolina’s opening drive, a 2-yarder with 8:02 left in the first quarter. He got another again from 2 yards with 4:04 left in the second quarter as South Carolina took a 14-3 lead at halftime.
The Bulldogs, who hadn’t lost in Columbia since 2000, appeared to get their offense untracked in the third quarter. Playing without suspended receiver A.J. Green and with a freshman Aaron Murray at quarterback, Georgia cut it to 14-6 and was driving later in the third quarter.
But a fumble by Washaun Ealey at the Gamecocks 4 forced by strong safety DeVonte Holloman and recovered by cornerback Stephon Gilmore (both of Rock Hill’s South Pointe High) ended the threat.
After that, the Bulldogs saw more and more of Lattimore.
“Coach Spurrier did a nice job planning for that young man to carry the ball,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt. “They just kept feeding him.”
Spurrier will probably consider doing the same thing when the Gamecocks’ SEC schedule resumes after a home game against Furman next week. South Carolina is at Auburn on Sept. 25, then after a bye week faces defending national champ Alabama at home.?
“Today we needed (Lattimore) to carry 37 (times),” Spurrier said. “If we need him to against Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, even Furman, he came here to run the ball.”
DAVID SCOTT / The Associated Press