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September 17, 2011

More and more, Lattimore



He actually came into the media room with a spring in his step.

No one would have blamed him if his legs were encased in ice bags, and he was riding in a rickshaw.

"Nah, I'm fine," Marcus Lattimore said. "We condition better than any team, I think. And when it comes to the fourth quarter, as I get more carries, I feel stronger, like I say every week."

He's surely not getting weaker.

Lattimore again carried No. 10 South Carolina's offense on Saturday, rushing for a career-high 246 yards as the Gamecocks outlasted Navy 24-21. Steve Spurrier has said that he has no concerns about handing the ball to the sophomore tailback 30 to 40 times a game if it's what's required to win, and he's done it in each of the Gamecocks' first three games.

Those who are concerned with over-use of the Heisman Trophy candidate should clip their lips. Lattimore figures he's here to run the ball, he wants to run the ball, let him run the ball.

"I knew we were going to have to run the ball," Lattimore said. "We knew we had to run the ball to be able to win the game."

Blessed with an almost uncanny ability to know when he's about to get hit, and then squaring his shoulder pads to brace for it, Lattimore adds to his speed and his ankle-breaking cuts with his downfield vision. The first time he touched the ball on Saturday, he churned 31 yards downfield, and the last time he touched it, he toiled through the middle of the Midshipmen's line for 6 yards.

In between, he had 209 other rushing yards and 25 receiving yards. And he never wore out, never needed a breather, never needed his backup to come in and spell him for a couple of carries.

"I'm prepared," he said. "When it's there, we've got to run the ball."

Receiver Nick Jones, one of Lattimore's closest friends and former high-school teammate as well, wasn't surprised to see his pal keep getting up and lining up for the next play. "Ever since little league, he never gets tired," Jones said. "I'm used to seeing this. I've been watching him since I was 7 years old."

Lattimore is gaining yards the hard and easy ways, often subject to cheap shots when he runs into the pile-ups or having to twist his body to reflect the arm-tackles and grab-from-behind stops he sometimes takes. Perhaps protocol would say that Lattimore should get a few "rest" carries in between, but Lattimore wants it and Spurrier wants him to have it, so unless USC gets into a comfortable game soon, expect it to continue.

Navy came into the game leading the country in rushing, at 400 yard per game. The Midshipmen had 274 on Saturday.

Lattimore had 246 by himself.

The Gamecocks look better when Lattimore is there, even though the passing game finally got into gear on Saturday and quit being The Alshon Jeffery Show. The unit is more fluid and more potent when Lattimore is there. If anybody had any excuse to sit in the cold tub and do interviews from there on Saturday, it was Lattimore, who handled the ball a combined 41 times, but he walked right in like he was coming out of a triple-feature movie.

"That's all the offensive line," Lattimore said. "They were moving the (defensive) line so I could see. I just had to take that six or seven yards they were giving us.

"I feel good right now. It don't hit you until about 9 o'clock in the morning. I'll be fine by Tuesday."

[Complete USC-Navy game coverage: Click here]

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