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Thought: South Carolina's Really Bad Week

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Oct 17, 2011


Mitchell: The Gamecocks' Awful Week Got A Lot Worse


 

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By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb

A bad week for South Carolina just got worse. Much worse.

Star running back Marcus Lattimore will miss the remainder of the season after suffering ligament and cartilage damage in his left knee forced him to leave the game against Mississippi State Saturday. He will wear a cast for 2-3 weeks until the swelling subsides enough for surgery.

Heading into Saturday, the true sophomore tailback was leading the SEC in rushing, and exits with with 818 yards and ten touchdowns, along with 19 receptions for another 182 yards.

Lattimore already has more than 2000 yards rushing to his short career, though he’ll now have to wait until 2012 to add to that. Does his injury end the Gamecocks chance of winning a second consecutive SEC East title?

WHO TO NOW?

Down the stretch last year, it was Lattimore who carried SC to its first SEC division title. Not all-world receiver Alshon Jeffery or fourth year junior quarterback Stephen Garcia. Not head coach Steve Spurrier, who seemed to grimace at the thought of running the ball. And certainly not SC’s defense, which ended the regular season ranked a surprising 51st in the nation (seventh in the conference), with a pass efficiency defense of 93rd.

With Garcia’s dismissal not even a week old, the Gamecocks are now materially short on experience in their backfield; never a good place to be heading into the meat of conference play. They must now rely on another back stepping up to fill the gigantic void left by Lattimore.

However, there are two problems with that strategy. First, Lattimore is the FIFTH Carolina running back to join the injured ranks this year. Kenny Miles led the team in rushing in 2009 before Lattimore burst onto the scene. He’d seem the natural choice, except he’s struggling to recover from a wrist injury.

Junior Eric Baker was highly recruited out of Jacksonville, FL, but he has only carried the ball three times this year, for three yards. In fact, in his four year career at South Carolina, he has only carried the ball 51 times, and just five since 2008. Baker is also injury prone, and is currently limping on a bad ankle.

Spurrier and his coaching staff have high hopes for freshman Shon Carson, although they’ll have to wait until next year; the 5-8, 190 pound speedster blew out his knee in the win between the hedges.

Even backup fullback Matt Coffee tore a knee ligament Saturday vs. Miss State – like Lattimore and Carson, Coffee’s season is over.

That leaves 6-1, 223 pound Brandon Wilds from Blythewood, SC. But to set expectations reasonably for the true freshman, he was fourth on the depth chart heading into the East Carolina game, and as a result seriously considered redshirting.

Now he’s the man. He and his 13 carries for 75 yards…67 of which came late against Vandy and Kentucky.

Merciful Heavens.

And don’t say Bruce Ellington. The speedy sophomore wideout for who Lattimore was actually blocking when he was injured is not built to carry a football 15 times a game, let alone an offense.

Second, even with Lattimore, SC appeared to be barely holding on. As we warned during the week, you can’t take much from the offensive explosion vs. Kentucky; the Wildcats are atrocious. Carolina lost to Auburn with Lattimore and were losing to Miss State with him as well. Sure, the Miss State game was on the road, but Carolina’s next two games are at Tennessee and at Arkansas.

WHAT’S IN STORE NEXT

A bye week, thank goodness for the Gamecocks.

Looking ahead at the schedule, it’s true Carolina’s next two games are on the road, but the first is at Tennessee...and the Vols will be coming off a road test of their own – in Tuscaloosa. Tennessee will likely be nursing several wounds of their own after that game. It’s unlikely stud quarterback Tyler Bray will be back from his broken thumb in time for this one, but even if he is, Carolina’s pass efficiency defense is ranked second best in the SEC and #5 in the nation.

With Florida banged up and in various states of disarray, AND having to travel to Columbia, it’s likely South Carolina’s greatest test will be at Arkansas the week after Knoxville. Arkansas’ run defense has been abysmal this season (currently ranked 95th in the nation)...but this game was always going to come down to SC’s defense vs. the Hogs' offense - particularly quarterback Tyler Wilson.

We expected SC to do enough to keep Wilson and head coach Bobby Petrino from lighting it up, which meant Carolina would win the game on the back of Lattimore. With his absence, we’ll change our mind today and take the home team Razorbacks, which would give the Gamecocks conference loss #2.

Given the Georgia Bulldogs are likely to be favorites in all three remaining SEC games (against a Florida Gators team that’s struggling, and Auburn and Kentucky between the hedges), UGA should close out conference play with just the one loss, vs. SC’s two. As such, it’s likely the loss to Arkansas will be the difference in another trip to Atlanta for the Gamecocks.

So yes, this season-ending injury to Lattimore is indeed likely to end the Gamecocks dreams of back-to-back SEC division titles.

- Cirminiello: How Good Is Sammy Watkins
- Mitchell: South Carolina's Really Bad Week
- Harrison: Do Ohio State Fans Want Fickell? 
- Sallee: SEC East. The Division No One Wants
- Johnson: Just How Good Is Washington?
- Zemek: The Rule Book Problem With Fumbles