Our worst nightmares have been confirmed: Marcus Lattimore has a torn ACL and is out for the rest of the season.
First things first: We wish you a speedy recovery, Marcus. I hope and pray that this doesn't affect his career long-term, as he has a promising professional career in front of him. Moreover, if anyone doesn't deserve an injury, it's this guy, who's a good man, a team player, and a hard worker. He gave his all over the off-season to get stronger in order to make sure that this didn't happen, and then it happened on a freak play that he couldn't have anticipated. It's a crying shame--no other way to put it. The silver lining is that Marcus is a dedicated worker who will put his all into his rehab and recovery. If anyone can get through this, it's him.
It's unclear to me what his loss means for the team.This team has suffered a lot of adversity over the last few weeks, and it's something of a miracle that it gutted out a win against Miss. St. considering all the drama that happened last week. The good news is that it now gets a break to regroup. The players need to rally. There are still leaders on this roster, and they need to make sure everyone remains focused and cohesive through this tough time.
As to scheme and production, the problems with run-blocking on the offensive line were probably a bigger issue for the running game than whether we have Lattimore or not, and we'll need to get those shored up before we can even begin to think of being a competent team on the ground. I'm sure that will be a major point of focus over the off-week, although I'm not sure there's much that can be done about this season. Barring the return of Kyle Nunn, whose return will also have the benefit of allowing Rokevious Watkins to move back to his natural position of guard, we simply aren't going to see any major increases in talent level this year on the line. We're going to have wait for some of these younger players to grow into better players. Cody Gibson has shown me some nice things this year, but he's still inexperienced. The other backups aren't ready yet.
One other thing to note here is that I'm beginning to suspect that opposing coaches have figured out our signals; Spurrier mentioned this after Auburn, and Miss. St. usually seemed to anticipate our running plays by inching the linebackers into the right gaps. If the coaching staff adresses this problem, that might help the line. It's hard for any line to effectively run block when the defense knows what you're doing and blitzes linebackers into the right holes every time.
At any rate, considering likely lingering problems on the line, I think the coaches are going to have to continue to be creative in trying to get the ball to the edge. Brandon Wilds (and Kenny Miles once he recovers from his wrist injury) is a capable back who can make plays inside and can catch the ball out of the backfield, but don't expect him to have too much luck when Lattimore struggled so much over the past few games. I expect more Emory-and-Henry formations to spread the defense, and I expect us to use the wildcat with Bruce Ellington more often. Both scoring drives yesterday featured plenty of Ellington, who is a great playmaker who should be called upon to shoulder a bigger load in Marcus's absence. Don't be surprised if he starts lining up in the backfield while Connor Shaw is under center, as well. I also like us to run more jet sweeps to Ellington, Ace Sanders, and Damiere Byrd, who are getting good yardage on such plays. These kinds of plays allow our playmakers to negate poor line execution.
As far as our chances in the SEC East go, it's hard to say. Losing Marcus is a big blow, obviously. That said, the SEC East is a trainwreck right now and every remaining conference opponent other than Arkansas looks very beatable. If the line and / or Wilds step up and the coaches make some good scheme alterations, we can beat struggling Tennessee and Florida teams. Arkansas may be another story, but we may not need to beat the Hogs if UGA drops a game, and considering the way they've been playing, that seems very possible despite their easy schedule. We should all be rooting for Florida to beat them this weekend, needless to say. Of course, it's also very possible that we drop multiple games down the stretch, and I don't think we can afford to lose more than one.
At the end of the day, though, I'd like to reiterate the important thing here: Get well soon, Marcus. Gamecock Nation is behind you.