To anyone who has watched a single South Carolina football game this year, one thing is perfectly clear. Marcus Lattimore is a stud. His impact as a true freshman is unquestionable, and you will be hard pressed to find a recent true freshman with this much impact. I've heard in jest that "He's the only running back Steve Spurrier has ever loved."
When Steve Spurrier was asked about the impact Marcus Lattimore has made on Spurrier's Gamecocks this season, Spurrier said simply, "The difference is 6-2 and 4-4." Spurrier himself attributes two games of the seven Lattimore has played to Lattimore.
Lattimore had to sit out the Vanderbilt game due to an ankle injury sustained against Kentucky. Lattimore made the trip to Vanderbilt and was suited up and appeared ready to play if needed. Luckily Brian Maddox carried the load, and Lattimore was able to heal up and be at the ready for the Tennessee game.
Another difference Lattimore has made is adding balance. The Gamecocks have been utterly horrible at running the ball over the last few years. With 151.88 yards per game, they are only seventh in the conference but a mere two yards behind Florida. Seventh is a marked improvement from a year ago. With that said, the keys to a Gamecock victory over Arkansas are simple if they can be executed.
No. 1 Give the ball to Marcus Lattimore
That's what the game plan should look like. When you aren't handing the ball to No. 21, hand it to Brian Maddox. If you aren't doing that then you aren't planning on winning. As a true freshman, Lattimore has had two games in which he has rushed for over 180 yards.
Games against Georgia (182) and Tennessee (184). Those are defenses that are expecting to see him run. Every defense expects to see him run. Those defenses also expect to see him catch. In seven games played, he has 13 touchdowns. Eleven rushing and two receiving.
Lattimore is also a very mature, very smart football player. He is wise beyond his years, and is what former football players, and color commentators call a guy with a "high football IQ." This week Lattimore has said he knows what it took to beat Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee at home this year—running the ball.
Lattimore also needs to sit in on offensive and defensive meetings. He has said, "Of course, you have to keep it out of Ryan Mallett's hands." Lattimore, the rest of the offense and hopefully, the defense realize that playing the old school yard game of keep away will be a deciding factor in this SEC Showdown.
No. 2 When not handing to Lattimore, throw to Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery is without a doubt one of the best wide receivers in the nation. He's a game changer by himself. Add to that the fact that Marcus Lattimore is a game changer, and that Alshon Jeffery has Tori Gurley on the other side, and you have a deadly combination.
Jeffery is a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. Steve Spurrier has said that Alshon looks slow, but then, nobody can catch him. He's right. Jeffery's 70-yard touchdown pass to get the lead against Tennessee changed the game and showed just how fast and dynamic he can be.
No. 3 Play Pass Defense
This is something the Gamecocks haven't done well this season. Steve Spurrier will agree with that—so will the stats. The Gamecocks are 105th in the nation in pass defense, giving up an embarrassing 259.9 yards a game. They do, though, only allow 19.5 points a game good for 26th in the nation in scoring defense.
The Gamecocks were hit with the loss of Chris Culliver this week. He tore his right pectoral muscle and strained his right bicep in the Tennessee game and attempted for a while to play through it. Sadly, Culliver has played his final game as a South Carolina Gamecock.
You hate to see any player end a good career because of an injury. Culliver likely faces six months of rehab, putting his NFL Draft hopes in jeopardy as well. This also isn't Culliver's first shoulder injury, and he has had multiple surgeries to repair the area.
With the loss of Culliver, C.C. Whitlock, who has an interception and 14 tackles this season has been promoted to starting corner, with Stephon Gilmore on the other side. Walk-on Marty Markett is listed as Whitlock's backup. Markett is a standout on special teams, and Coach Spurrier himself lobbied for Markett's playing time.
Akeem Auguste was initially listed as the backup to Stephon Gilmore on the other side but now is the starter at free safety, where he started this year and will be backed up by D.J. Swearinger. Devonte Holloman will remain the starting strong safety, and Swearinger will sub in for both men. Redshirt Freshman Jimmy Legree will likely have his name called at some point as well.
Team leaders are a very important thing. Tori Gurley on the offensive side is emerging, as well as Ladi Ajiboye on the defensive side. The senior is attempting to keep his teammates loose but focused—injecting humor to take out the tension but then willing his teammates to play and backing up with his own performance. Being ready and remaining loose will have a lot to do with this Saturday's outcome.
South Carolina play-by-play legend Bob Fulton, was the voice of the Gamecocks for 43 years, retiring in 1995. Known as "The Voice" Fulton has a banner in the Colonial Life Arena where the Gamecocks play basketball. Fulton died on Wednesday November 3, 2010 in his Lexington, South Carolina home. He was 89 years old. Gamecock fans everywhere mourn at the passing of a true legend.