It goes without saying that this was the most emotional game that I have ever attended at Williams-Brice Stadium. I'm not sure I've ever seen, even on TV, a moment like that where both teams surrounded an injured player. It goes to show you how much respect people have for Marcus Lattimore, not only in South Carolina but in the rest of the nation, as well. Lattimore has earned that respect with his play on and his behavior off the field. After play resumed, it was difficult to focus on the game itself, as everyone was thinking about Marcus, particularly as reports began circulating about how brutal his injury looked. The picture above of Kenny Miles tearing up after seeing the injury more or less reflects how every single person in that stadium felt after witnessing what happened to Lattimore.
Obviously, we're all still waiting to hear the details about the injury, but what's circulating right now, and what appears likely from the footage, is that we're talking about an extremely serious injury with multiple knee ligament tears and a broken bone. I'm not a medical expert, but this sounds like an injury in the category of the ones suffered by guys like Willis McGahee and former Gamecock Andre Goodman. It was hard for those guys to make it back to football, but they were able to do so. Orthopedic medicine has come a long way in recent years, and we need to hope that the exact nature of the injury is such that it is repairable to football grade. If anyone is capable of doing what needs to be done in that situation to make a return to football, it's Marcus Lattimore. It just kills you, though, that he has to go through this again after what happened to him last year.
As for the game itself, it was to some degree what I expected, and it ended the way it needed to end. I figured that our offense would bounce back against a bad UT defense, and I figured that UT's passing game would give us serious trouble. I'm not sure I expected the game to be quite as close as it was, but it wasn't terribly surprising, particularly considering that we didn't have Lattimore to help us bleed the clock late in the game. This team has had a tough slate of games over the last few weeks, and it was probably difficult for the defense to play its best game. However, while the defense didn't play well by any means, it got the plays it needed to win the game. Now, we've got the win--our third straight against the UT Vols--and we're headed into a much-needed bye week. We'll need the off week to make personnel adjustments and get the defense healthy again. We should be ready to come back good enough to beat Arkansas and Wofford. I'm not sure what to think about Clemson right now, but we're obviously capable of winning that game if we play our best football.
A few more thoughts on the game:
--Some of you might be worried about Arkansas and Clemson's offenses against our pass defense, which seems to be regressing, but part of the issue against Tennessee was that the Vols' strong offensive line was able to negate our pass rush for much of the game. We should be able to generate more consistent pressure against the Hogs and Tigers. We should also have Akeem Auguste back by that point, which will be good because Ahmad Christian doesn't appear to be ready for duty against good receivers.
--Connor Shaw played a very solid game. Other than a couple of misthrown deep balls to Ace Sanders, Shaw's throws were on the money, and he did a much better job of working through his progressions and finding open receivers. He could have easily had another 50 or 60 yards if Damiere Byrd hangs onto the ball. Shaw was also good on his feet, which suggests that the only problem in that regard over the past two games was the fact that we were facing elite defensive lines.
--Another player I was extremely impressed with was Justice Cunningham, who had his best receiving game of his career. Cunningham is a guy who came into USC without many prep accolades, and he deserves serious commendation for what he's made of his career. He's turned into a solid, well-rounded player.
--I also thought the offensive coaching staff had a good game plan. I had been telling people all week that I thought we needed to roll Shaw out more, and we did that constantly in this game, almost always to good effect. When you roll Shaw out, he's able to see the field better, and if no one is open, he can often get a nice gain on his feet. I also liked the Emory-and-Henry wrinkle. The one thing that had me disappointed about the playcalling is that, yet again, we see that it often takes a loss for the staff to make radical changes to the offensive strategy. We should have been doing some of these things all along. A lot of it is simply a matter of scheming to our strengths.
--Special teams weren't great, but they were better. It's obvious that our kickoff strategy was to be OK with giving UT the ball on the 30 as long as they didn't get a chance to bring it back to midfield or further, and if that's what we need to do, that's fine with me. And Tyler Hull's punt late in the game was fantastic--his best effort of the year. Hull isn't a great punter, but he's becoming serviceable. Certainly a step up from Joey Scribner-Howard last year.
That's a wrap on this one. I'm sure that I speak for us all in saying that I'll be thinking of Lattimore and hoping for forthcoming good news.