Gators have hands full vs. USC's Lattimore


South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore breaks through the Georgia defensive line to pick up a first down in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 6. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 5:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.

The Florida Gators did not need any help identifying the monster truck that ran them over in The Swamp two years ago. The name was right on the back.

LATTIMORE.

As in Marcus Lattimore, the big, fast South Carolina tailback who crushed the Gators (and their hopes of winning the SEC Eastern Division) in 2010, running over and around defenders for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the Gamecocks' 36-14 victory.

Although the Gators have not seen him since that 40-carry night, they know all too well what kind of damage he can inflict.

“He's one of those backs that can pretty much do it all,” UF middle linebacker Jon Bostic said of the 6-foot, 218-pound Lattimore. “He can do some different things. He's really hard to stop, because he's a good single-back guy.

“He can run it from the I-formation. He can always line up in the gun and do some zone-read stuff from there. He's hard to defend because you never know exactly what (the USC offense) is going to come out in.”

There is one certainty Saturday: No. 21 is going to have his hands on the ball. A lot.

If he plays, that is. Lattimore, who has a bruised hip, did not practice Wednesday and USC coach Steve Spurrier said there is a chance he might not play Saturday. Kenny Miles is expected to get the start at tailback.

When asked about Lattimore's injury status Wednesday, Gamecocks wide receiver Ace Sanders said the running back has looked fine.

"He's fine. I don't know anything about those (injury) reports on Lattimore so I really can't answer any of those questions,” Sanders said. “He looked fine to me."

Despite his questionable status, the Gators are preparing to face Lattimore.

“When you play against a talented runner like this, yeah, you want to keep count of where he is, how he is and the style he plays,” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “What are his best runs and knowing that there's going to be a number of those in the ballgame.

“We've got to make sure we get enough turns at seeing that (in practice) and playing those.”

Florida's defense did not have an opportunity to go against Lattimore last season. He injured his knee midway through the season and had ACL surgery that knocked him out of the last six games.

Because of the surgery, some are wondering if Lattimore is the same back he was in The Swamp in 2010, including one UF player, senior safety Josh Evans.

On Tuesday, Evans sounded off with what has become bulletin board material in Columbia.

“He's a good back, physical guy. I think he lost a step a little bit from what we've seen before,” Evans said. “But he's still showing statistics, so nothing to take away from him. I think that's due to the injury.”

If Lattimore has lost a step, UF coach Will Muschamp hasn't seen it.

“Marcus Lattimore is a phenomenal football player,” Muschamp said. “He's a guy that's going to go after it and he's going to compete and play hard and play fast and play physical.

“You see no issue from what he had with his injury last year. He's a guy that's running extremely well. He's got his strength back and he's a one-cut runner. He gets the ball north and south and really moves the pile. He's an outstanding back.”

Lattimore has rushed for 584 yards and 10 touchdowns in his comeback season. He's had three 100-yard rushing performances, all against SEC foes (Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky).

He was held to only 35 yards on 13 carries in the loss at LSU last Saturday, and he has not had the kind of breakout game he had against UF in 2010 since he ran for 246 yards and three touchdowns against Navy in the third game last season.

But everyone seems to agree Lattimore has one of those monster games inside him just waiting to come out — and the Gators want to make sure it doesn't happen against them Saturday.

Quinn and the defensive players say they have to stay in their gaps and tackle well. As the Gators have experienced in the past, the tackling part is a tough proposition against Lattimore.

“That's the one thing you see with him. Sometimes there's not much of a hole there, but he finds it and he sticks his face in there and gets the pile moving,” Muschamp said. “You look up and you're working first-and-10 and all of a sudden in the press box they say, ‘Second-and-5.' Then he pops one out of there and he's going to make you tackle him.

“He's a physical, tough, really good football player.”

In last season's 17-12 loss in Columbia, the Gators struggled against the USC ground game, giving up 215 yards. And that was without Lattimore.

“They had a good game running the ball against us,” Quinn said. “That was the real factor in the ballgame, and (Lattimore) wasn't playing. So, we know their style and how they can do it.

“When you add him back to the run game, I know we have our hands full, and we're looking forward to that challenge.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com. Staff writer Kevin Brockway contributed to this report.

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