No. 12 South Carolina uses run to keep winning
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)
Each game, Steve Spurrier thinks South Carolina will eventually break loose in its passing game and throw the ball all over the field the way he loves.
When that doesn't happen, the Gamecocks' coach again realizes his best option is hand the ball to tailback Marcus Lattimore and leave with a victory.
That happened again Saturday night, Lattimore running for a career high 246 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-21 win over Navy. The Gamecocks (3-0) didn't pick up any style points in beating the Midshipmen - South Carolina slipped two spots to 12th in the rankings Sunday. Yet, they're still undefeated as they chase a Southeastern Conference title.
"I keep thinking that we're capable of throwing the balls up and down the field and they're just not getting up there," Spurrier said. "It is what it is, as they say."
Good thing South Carolina has Lattimore.
He touched the ball on 26 of the Gamecocks' 37 second-half plays as Spurrier kept Navy's effective option attack off the field. Lattimore leads the SEC with 534 yards rushing, 87 carries and seven touchdowns. If the sophomore keeps up that pace, he would post one of the greatest rushing seasons in college football history.
Lattimore's ready for as many carries as Spurrier wants to give him.
"When it is there, we've got to run the ball," Lattimore says. "I'm prepared for it."
Spurrier is, too.
The architect of the Florida's "Fun-n-Gun" offense won six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship by "pitching and catching" the ball throughout the game. He had strong runners with the Gators, like stars Errict Rhett and Fred Taylor. Yet, no one has run for more yards under Spurrier in a game than Lattimore did against Navy.
As a playcaller, Spurrier says "the best way to win the game is hand the ball to Marcus and call some safe passes and hope something bad isn't going to happen."
Spurrier better hope Lattimore doesn't wear down. He carried 37 times on Saturday night. South Carolina's only other rusher was quarterback Stephen Garcia.
The Gamecocks lost promising freshman backup Shon Carson to a knee injury in a 45-42 victory at Georgia two weeks ago. Kenny Miles was South Carolina's leading rusher in 2009, but has only seen spot action since Lattimore joined the Gamecocks two seasons back. Miles has only one carry this season.
Garcia finished 18 of 25 for 204 yards. Spurrier said his fifth-year senior played well enough and just missed on a couple of early long balls that might've put a decent cushion between the Gamecocks and Navy. Garcia's one interception was a result of bad protection, not a bad quarterback decision.
Then again, Spurrier has shown a confidence in Lattimore like few others in his seven seasons at South Carolina. Lattimore became an instant star in 2010 when he rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns on in a 17-6 win over Georgia that began the Gamecocks' run to the SEC Eastern Division title.
Lattimore's previous high was 212 yards (on 40 carries) in a 36-14 victory at Florida, a place the Gamecocks had never won before. Need more proof of Lattimore's importance?
The Gamecocks led Kentucky 28-10 at halftime as Lattimore had 212 yards of total offense. But Lattimore hurt his ankle and didn't play the second half - and the result was a Wildcats comeback and a 31-28 victory.
Lattimore took a hard shot on South Carolina's first possession of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, leaving with concussion and a cut mouth. The Gamecocks wound up losing to Florida State, 26-19.
"Spurrier was trying to throw it around early, but you could tell he got a little bit more patient toward the end and ran the ball down our throats," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We had a hard time stopping them, tackling them."
Expect Spurrier to throw the ball some in next week's game with Vanderbilt (3-0), which leads the country with 10 interceptions. If the Gamecocks' offense runs into trouble, Spurrier will get Lattimore going once again, even if it's not what he's used to.
"I'm embracing it," Spurrier said.
Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.