South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore returned to action on Thursday night, just 10 months removed from tearing his left ACL last October vs. Mississippi State.
The junior Heisman contender fumbled on his first carry, but he rebounded to give the Gamecocks 110 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Not bad, but is he fully "back"?
"After that first play, it wasn't a good play, and I hated that happening, but I just had to forget about it," said Lattimore in the postgame quotes. "After a few runs, I started to feel like myself again."
Lattimore burst onto the scene in 2010 by grinding out 187 yards on 32 carries in his second game as a true freshman vs. Georgia. That got the ball rolling on a freshman campaign that saw the Duncan, S.C., native rack up 1,197 yards.
He followed that up with 818 rushing yards in seven games last season, before he injured his knee.
The one thing to watch for any player coming off of an ACL tear is the ability to cut, but that never was one of Lattimore's strengths.
As you can see from his 2010 highlights, he wasn't overly flashy as a running back. He's a bruiser that is dangerous between the tackles. He also has the ability to make defenders miss in space, but that's not his strength.
The opening fumble notwithstanding, he looked like he was close to being back vs. Vanderbilt on Thursday night.
Lattimore's cut near the goal line was his declaration that he was "back," but it was the one at the line of scrimmage at the 31-yard line that proved he's just fine.
He saw the hole open up to his right, made one cut and immediately accelerated for the touchdown.
That shows that he's healthy and that he trusts his left knee. Those are two important factors towards his recovery.
More important than his ability to cut was the fact that Lattimore took control of the game when it mattered most.
He then put his team on his back and rushed nine times for 43 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter—when everyone in the building and watching on television knew that he was getting the ball.
Is he 100 percent? No, and now that the season has started, he probably won't be until the season ends.
But Thursday's performance vs. Vanderbilt indicates that he's close enough to doing what he did during his first two seasons in Columbia. His 4.8-yard-per-carry average on Thursday night was exactly what he averaged as a freshman in 2010 and only two-tenths fewer than where he was in 2011.
That's a good sign if you're a Gamecock fan.
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