COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Running back Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks leaves the field after play against the Navy Midshipmen September 17, 2011 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
One of the most popular topics surrounding Gamecocks football right now is the question of whether we're overusing Marcus Lattimore. With Lattimore on pace to challenge the SEC's carries-per-game mark, a lot of folks are wondering whether Lattimore can hold up over the course of a long season.
The coaches are sending mixed messages on the topic. On the one hand, they've repeatedly said that they'd like to get Lattimore off the field more often and that they're only running him so hard because they have to. On the other, they're saying they believe Lattimore is durable enough to carry an unusually large load.
I think this is the right response. With every game so huge, Carolina has to do everything it has to do to win and worry about the rest later. And truth be told, Lattimore likely is durable enough to take an unnatural beating--at least, if anybody is, it's him. Lattimore is a big back who is clearly in nearly impeccable physical condition. He's also a very smart runner, a guy who anticipates hits and thus takes less of a beating than he might otherwise. Lastly, as much as I like Kenny Miles and would like to see him get some chances to play this year, I'm not inclined to say that we should be playing him for the hell of it. We've got the best back in the country on our roster. Lattimore should be in the game unless he's exhausted, hurt, or we're up by two or more touchdowns. Since none of those things have applied yet outside the final minutes of the ECU game, Lattimore has been on the field. It is what it is, and while I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, at the end of the day I think it will turn out fine.
Personally, I'm don't think Lattimore should get less carries because we need to rest him; I want him to get less carries because I want to see what our offense as a whole can do if it starts passing the ball well. With Lattimore playing at an incomparably high level right now, we would only need the semblance of a dangerous passing game in order for our offense to start putting up the kind of pinball numbers Spurrier was brought here to produce. What happens when defenses are no longer focused on containing Lattimore but also have to worry about Stephen Garcia's arm, as well? A higher ypc for Lattimore, that's what. Really fast TD drives, that's what. So, next time you ask why Lattimore is getting so many carries, don't wonder what will happen when he gets hurt, dream about what will happen when he doesn't have to be "the guy" anymore. Or at least not the only "guy."