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Florida's defense will be tested on Saturday by South Carolina's versatile offense.

Monday October 15, 2012Florida's Defense Gears Up to Face South Carolina Tandem of Lattimore and Shaw

Florida's defense will be tested on Saturday by South Carolina's versatile offense.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is coming off a very non-Lattimore like game based on the standards he has set the past three seasons.

Lattimore rushed for a season-low 35 yards on 13 carries in the Gamecocks’ loss at LSU last weekend. Still, when Florida’s defense watches tape of the game in preparation for Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown against South Carolina, there is one run that will remind the Gators of the Lattimore they remember from two years ago.

Lattimore’s 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Gamecocks a 14-10 lead over LSU. The score included a 430-pound collision – Lattimore’s 218 pounds against LSU safety Eric Reid’s 212-pound frame. Lattimore won the way he did so many times in South Carolina’s 36-14 win at The Swamp in 2010 that clinched the SEC East for the Gamecocks.

Lattimore rushed a career-high 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns (7, 21 and 11 yards) on a night when the Gators had no answers for the then-freshman tailback. Lattimore is now older and more experienced and presents a unique challenge for every team that faces the Gamecocks because of his ability to run around, through or past would-be tacklers.

“He’s one of the backs that can pretty much do it all,’’ Gators linebacker Jon Bostic said Monday. “He can do so many different things. He’s hard to really stop. He’s a good single-back guy, he can line up in the I-formation. He can always line up in gun and do some zone-read stuff from there. It’s kind of hard to defend because you never know exactly what they’re going to come out in.”

Lattimore was clearly the difference in 2010 against Florida. A year ago when the Gamecocks defeated the Gators in Columbia, the difference-maker was quarterback Connor Shaw.

Shaw is a lot like Florida sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can run, he can throw and he can make a play when there appears no play to be made.

“They play is never dead with him,’’ Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “He can create so much with his legs and he’s a tough hard-nosed competitive guy, a guy you enjoy competing against because of the way he plays the game. He’s a coach’s son, and a really good athlete.”

Shaw rushed for a then-career-high 88 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s 17-12 victory over Florida. He had help from another running back, but not Lattimore, who did not play against the Gators last season after suffering a season-ending left knee injury earlier in the year against Mississippi State.

Instead, it was Brandon Wilds who rushed 29 times for 120 yards to help give former Gators coach Steve Spurrier his first back-to-back wins over his alma mater since he took over at South Carolina in 2005. Wilds has not played due to an ankle injury.

That’s of little consolation to the Gators since Lattimore is back and getting stronger each game.

“You see no issues with what he had with his injury last year, a guy that’s running extremely well in my opinion,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “He’s a one-cut runner, he gets the ball north and south and he pushes the pile and that’s the one thing you see with him in the zone-read. Sometimes there’s not much of a hole there, but he finds it and he sticks his face in there and he gets the pile moving.

“You look up, and you’re working first-and-10, and all of a sudden in the box they say second-and-five – he gained five yards. He pops one out of there and he’s going to make you tackle him.”

Lattimore, the SEC and national freshman of the year in 2010 when he gained 1,197 yards, is sixth in the SEC in rushing with 584 yards – 83.4 per game – this season. His season-high for carries came in the Gamecocks’ 35-7 win over Georgia two weeks ago when he rushed 24 times for 109 yards.

Spurrier has allowed Shaw to carry more of the load as Lattimore worked his way back into form.

“We try to give it to him as much as we can, but we know we can't give it to him every play," Spurrier said last week. “We gotta mix in some throws and this, that and the other. I think he's pretty close to 100 percent."

Lattimore recently discarded the knee brace he played with earlier in the season and continues to climb South Carolina’s career rushing list. He is currently sixth with 2,599 yards in 27 career games.

Meanwhile, Shaw has passed for 910 yards and nine touchdowns. He has also cut down on some of the mental mistakes that plagued the Gamecocks with Stephen Garcia at the helm for much of Spurrier’s tenure. Shaw did come under scrutiny from Spurrier for his decision-making at the end of the LSU loss, which snapped South Carolina’s school-record 10-game winning streak.

Shaw has rushed for 280 yards, second on the team behind Lattimore and another reason the Gators know they must keep an eye on the junior quarterback long after the snap.

“He’s an athlete, a competitor,’’ Gators defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “He can take some shots. He can kill you with his legs.”

As the No. 3-ranked Gators prepare to face the ninth-ranked Gamecocks, Lattimore and Shaw will be the center of attention for Florida’s defense. The same way South Carolina is aware of how important Driskel and senior running back Mike Gillislee are to Florida’s offense.

Both teams are in the running for the SEC East title in part due to a similar offensive approach: a dual-threat quarterback and run-it-between-the-tackles featured running back.

“Their football team is a little similar to ours in running the ball and playing really good defense and winning in the kicking game,’’ Muschamp said.


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