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September 29, 2012

Lattimore warms up for UGA



LEXINGTON, Ky. - Shut down and nearly shut out in Saturday's first half, South Carolina went into the locker room and issued a facepalm.

What was going on? The defensive problems could be fixed, but what was all of this shotgun-snap, run-around-looking-for-a-receiver nonsense?

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"We knew what we had to do to win," quarterback Connor Shaw said. "We had to get back to our bread and butter. We knew we had to get back to what we're good at.

"We had to get Marcus the ball."

What took them so long?

"I just wait until my number's called," the sixth-ranked Gamecocks' workhorse tailback said after yet another gallant night, rushing for 120 yards with two touchdowns and catching three passes for 16 yards. "I'm coached by Steve Spurrier. He knows what he's doing."

Spurrier remembered that, and got back to what got him into the best three-year run in USC football history - Marcus Lattimore. When in doubt, hand him the ball.

Thirty minutes of game clock later, a 17-7 first half where the Gamecocks seemingly couldn't tie their shoes without a mistake was lost in the haze of a 31-point unanswered outburst, keyed by the legs of No. 21. Lattimore took USC's first snap of the second half and dashed 13 yards through the middle, and never ceased for the duration.

Held to 12 yards on five carries by a lack of run-blocking and an inspired Kentucky defense, USC went into the power-I formation, giving Lattimore the ball and letting him create. When the Gamecocks got close to the goal line, they switched to zone-read within the I, designed to let the school's career touchdown scorer get into space and do what he does best.

"We had a better plan," Spurrier said. "Give it to Lattimore and let him run."

The few dressed in blue who came to the game quickly saw the home team's chances for an upset vanish. Lattimore got the ball, again and again, and churned through Kentucky's defenders with the relentlessness that made him a legend in Columbia after just his first two career games.

"Nothing else was working very well," Spurrier said. "It was time to give it to him, and give it to him. Maybe that's something we need to do a little bit more."

That may be advisable. USC's first-half offense was mostly Shaw running, having to scramble when no receivers could get open. Shaw did all he could, but sacks and a crucial high snap from center sent the Gamecocks into the locker room down 10 points.

Lattimore, never one to demand anything, sat and patiently waited for his call. It came shortly after the locker room doors closed.

"Sometimes it just opens up," he said.

Lattimore warmed up for an epic No. 5 vs. No. 6 showdown with Georgia next week by controlling the second half and turning a sour-looking night into a comfortable USC romp. The Bulldogs, who have mostly spent the past two years looking at the back of Lattimore's receding jersey, will get another look at the man that they haven't been able to stop.

Lattimore plowed the Bulldogs for 182 yards in his coming-out party two years ago, and had 176 last year as he salted away a win. The Gamecocks, who have won their first five games with a variety of offense, but haven't been dependent on Lattimore, may be switching to the automatic playbook.

The Marcus Series. Hand off, watch.

"We knew at halftime, we had to establish the run," Lattimore said. "I left a lot of yards out there. I can get way better."

That may be bad news for the Bulldogs.

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