Marcus Lattimore: Injury to Star RB Will Ruin South Carolina's SEC Title Hopes

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2012

October 27, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore (21) is carted off the field after being injured against the Tennessee Volunteers in the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE

The already-slim SEC championship hopes for the South Carolina Gamecocks got even more dire when star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a gruesome, devastating knee injury against Tennessee. 

Right when you saw Lattimore's leg after the play, you knew it was bad. Officially, the team is saying that the running back suffered "significant impact" to the front of his right knee. 

The ensuing hyperextension of the knee resulted in injury to several ligaments. There were no fractures or additional injuries, according to team physician Dr. Jeffrey Guy. 

The Gamecocks needed a lot of things to go right over the final month of the season. They are 5-2 in the SEC East, a game behind Florida (7-1, 6-1 in SEC) and one-half game behind Georgia (7-1, 5-1 in SEC) right now. 

Thanks to their victory over Georgia on October 6, South Carolina would win the division if the two teams are tied at the end of the season. Since Florida knocked off the Gamecocks, the Gators would win the division if those two teams have the same record. 

Georgia is in control of its destiny right now, as the Bulldogs defeated Florida this weekend. If they win out, they will be heading to Atlanta on December 1. 

Now moving back to Lattimore, this injury changes everything that the Gamecocks do on offense. Head coach Steve Spurrier has built this program on a dynamic running game, led by Lattimore, and a strong defense. 

However, Lattimore is the only running back who has really been asked to do anything this season. He leads the team with 143 carries, 662 yards and 11 touchdowns. No other back on the roster has more than 42 carries and 157 yards. 

The second-leading rusher on the team is quarterback Connor Shaw with 311 yards. When you add Lattimore's contributions in the passing game (26 receptions, which leads the team, 173 yards), it is clear that he is the only playmaker on offense that Spurrier trusts. 

Shaw is more of an efficient game manager than a quarterback who can win you a game on his own. He has only thrown more than 20 passes in a game three times this season. He is going to take on more of a role in this offense with Lattimore out.

That is hardly an ideal situation for a quarterback who is rarely asked to do much because Lattimore is so good. 

The Gamecocks do have a favorable schedule, with only one SEC game remaining against Arkansas on November 10.

But even that doesn't look like the sure thing it did before Lattimore went down, because we have no idea what this offense is going to look like without him. We can speculate about Mike Davis, who has never had more than six carries in a game. 

Things just don't look very good. The production Lattimore gave the Gamecocks is not something that anyone else can immediately replace. 

Any hopes the Gamecocks had of playing for an SEC championship drifted away when Lattimore started clutching his leg.