Gamecocks RB Lattimore confident in offense
Right guard Terrance Campbell has some advice for South Carolina fans worried about the team's struggling offense: Take a deep breath and relax.
Sure, Campbell said Tuesday, the 10th-ranked Gamecocks had some breakdowns and mistakes in the 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt. But the Gamecocks are still undefeated and confident as they prepare for defending national champion Auburn on Saturday.
''We're happy to be 4-0 and as a team we know we can do better, especially as an offense,'' Campbell said.
That's evident to anyone who's watched South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) this season.
The Gamecocks lost four fumbles in the opener to East Carolina and trailed 17-0 before rallying. They needed scores on a fake punt and a fumble return to squeak past Georgia, 45-42, a week later, then turned the ball over twice near the end zone in a 24-21 win against Navy at home on Sept. 17.
The Vanderbilt game was the poorest offensive showing of all, one so awful coach Steve Spurrier apologized to fans for the ''putrid'' performance. Quarterback Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions. The team fumbled six times, although they didn't lose a one. Even Marcus Lattimore, who came in the nation's top rusher, finished with 77 yards on the ground, his first game under 100 this season.
''We know we're a lot better than how we've been playing this season,'' Campbell said.
Spurrier knows that, too. He also knows that South Carolina's biggest tests are all ahead, starting with an Auburn team that beat the Gamecocks twice in 2010, including a humbling, 56-17 defeat in last year's SEC championship game.
''We just want to beat them for the first time in history,'' Lattimore said.
Lattimore's not 100 percent correct, although he's close. The Gamecocks' lone win in the Auburn series was back in 1933- and they've lost all six games since joining the SEC.
Auburn (3-1, 1-0) enters with plenty of problems, as well. The Tigers led the SEC in rushing defense a year ago on the way to a BCS title, but are last in that stat this season. Clemson posted 624 yards on them two weeks ago.
Auburn's offense has struggled even more than South Carolina's has this season. There's no doubt a drop off was due with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton off to the NFL. But the Tigers, who set an SEC record with 6,989 yards last season, are 80th nationally in passing and 78th in total offense.
''We're very close,'' Auburn receiver Emory Blake said. ''I feel like if we start executing every play, then we'll get there.''
Spurrier looked like he might want to execute a player after each offensive play last week. There were headset tosses and note throws galore, then the pointed apology for what he put out on the field. Spurrier was most upset about South Carolina's nine penalties, just about all of them on offense and the result of carelessness. He said he and his staff will spend the week correcting what's gone wrong.
''We are all a big part of whatever happens with the offense. That's why I don't think many of us were very happy the other night,'' said Spurrier, the team's playcaller and offensive coordinator. ''Our phase of the game didn't perform well.''
Any offensive success the Gamecocks' have had this season is largely due to Lattimore.
He had a career best 246 yards and three TDs in the Navy win, then accounted for two of South Carolina's touchdowns against Vanderbilt - a 52-yard catch and a 22-yard run. Defensive end Melvin Ingram has more touchdowns (three) than star wideout Alshon Jeffery (one).
''We can be a lot better as far as consistency,'' Lattimore said. ''Really, just cutting down on the stupid things and become a more fundamentally sound team.''
As annoyed as Spurrier sounded after the game, he's apparently removed his finger from the panic button. Garcia will start against Auburn, despite seven interceptions and just three touchdown passes this season. The attack should get a boost from freshman receiver Damiere Byrd, eligible to play after serving a four-game NCAA suspension. Byrd was among the players Spurrier raved about during the summer.
Spurrier said he may try and simplify Garcia's load this week to put him position ''to maybe not throw it at them.''
If the offense improves, ''maybe we can go one and have a big year,'' Spurrier said. ''But we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out.''
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this report.