Marcus Lattimore: Gamecocks Who Must Step Up in Star Running Back's Absence

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2012

October 27, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks running back Kenny Miles (31) gets around Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Jordan Williams (54) in the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE

Marcus Lattimore's horrific knee injury on Saturday didn't just end his season; it made South Carolina's final three games more difficult.

With the star running back on the mend, a few South Carolina players must step up. The Gamecocks offense struggles with Lattimore in the lineup, leaving major concerns as to what will happen with him on the sidelines.

Three games remain, including the final game of the year against Clemson.

Here are three players who must step up for South Carolina as the season winds down.


Ace Sanders

South Carolina needs playmakers, and Sanders is one of the best in the nation. He's a threat with the ball in his hands, no matter how he gets it.

He has 24 catches and five touchdowns this season, but that's not even his best quality. He's averaging 15.2 yards per punt return and he's returned one for a score this season. At this point, teams don't even like to kick to him.

It's hard to call a punt returner a major weapon, but he is. South Carolina struggles to score in conventional ways sometimes, and one big return can give the team the momentum it needs to push through.

Sanders is a dynamic playmaker, and that's what the Gamecocks need above all else right now. Lattimore's downhill running won't be there, but more big plays can be.


Kenny Miles

Miles will replace Lattimore along with Bruce Ellington. Miles, ideally getting most of the carries, must increase his production in the season's final three weeks.

He's much smaller than Lattimore at 5'9'' and 193 pounds, but his senior experience allows him to pick his way through holes. He has 42 carries for 149 yards and one score this season, which will help him now that he's been pressed into full-time duties.

No one is going to mistake Miles for Lattimore anytime soon, but Connor Shaw will not survive in a one-dimensional offense. Miles must keep the defense honest and allow his quarterback to operate comfortably in the pocket.

Miles did have 600-plus yards as a freshman in 2009, so the ability is there. He's not a home-run threat, but he can be a steady presence in the backfield for Steve Spurrier.


Connor Shaw

Shaw faces a ton of pressure every week. Not only is Spurrier extremely demanding of his quarterbacks, but Shaw has faced his problems with turnovers and mediocre play.

There's no doubting Shaw's toughness. He's thrown 12 touchdowns and five interceptions this season, but he's also taken 16 sacks. Part of that is his willingness to take punishment, but the Gamecocks' offensive line hasn't been great in pass protection.

Shaw's legs make him the team's most dangerous playmaker at this point. He's had three games with 70-plus rushing yards, although he does stray from the pocket too quickly at times.

Spurrier needs Shaw to become a downfield passer. He has weapons to throw to and a defense to back him up. He must show leadership, especially with Lattimore out of the lineup.

It's tough not to like Shaw. He's always peeling himself off of the ground, but he must step up his game even more now.


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