It could be just a ruse…or maybe an outright lie from Steve Spurrier (AKA the Ol’ Ball Coach) just to throw the chomp-hungry Gators off the Gamecocks’ scent, but rumor has it that Marcus Lattimore may not play Saturday. Spurrier says it’s a better bet that we’ll see Kenny Miles come game time and not No. 21. Supposedly, the uber-talented Lattimore is nursing a foot injury and looks more doubtful by the day.
Of course the immediate reaction to that news from the Gator Nation was a collective “awwww shucks, that’s too bad but HELLZ YEAH!” But as one Lee Corso might say, “not so fast my friend”.
Have we all forgotten that South Carolina managed to beat the Gators without Lattimore last year? Did we suddenly fail to recall that even minus their best offensive player (Lattimore), without their then “starting quarterback” (Stephen Garcia), and with no help at all from their leading receiver (Alshon Jeffery), the Gamecocks were able to win a tight battle over the Gators in Columbia.
Now, before Florida fans bombard me with their two cents about how Jeff Brantley was inept, Charlie Weis was an idiot, and the defense was young and still growing, let me just say I’ve considered all of that and I still contend that South Carolina has enough—with that defense—to keep the Gators honest and the game close minus their star tailback.
I’m not saying the loss of Lattimore isn’t a blow, because it is. But the Gamecocks know what life without Lattimore is like already. They learned the hard way last season after he tore his ACL in week seven. Despite his loss, which seemed to be devastating even then, the Gamecocks managed to finish out the regular season 4-1 and nearly make it to the SEC Championship Game.
Which is to say this: life minus Lattimore is hard, but it’s doable—especially when you have a defense like South Carolina’s.
That said, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the 2012 version of the Florida Gators is vastly improved from the 2011 version. The defense play fasters, hits harder, and has proven to be exponentially more opportunistic in the secondary than last year’s bunch. Even more, they have a quarterback with infinitely more tricks to show us than John Brantley ever could (i.e., he’s infinitely more mobile and more adept at making plays with his feet) and an offensive line that has matured enough to keep him upright while allowing the running game to flourish.
No, by no means is this Gator squad the young, inexperienced, poorly led (offensively) team we saw limp to a lowly—by Florida Gator standards—6-6 regular season record.
That said, I expect to see a better game from them this season than last and if Lattimore is indeed benched and doesn’t play one snap for South Carolina, I suspect the Gators will be happy to zero in on the lesser evils of Kenny Miles and Mike Davis—neither of whom can offer the punch of a Lattimore.
However, what I don’t expect to see is the Gamecocks wilting under the sweltering atmosphere of “The Swamp” because, if there’s one coach who knows what it’s like to win at Ben Hill Griffin, it’s Steve Spurrier.