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Second Half Belongs to Marcus Lattimore

11:33 AM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
Marcus Lattimore (Image: GamecockCentral.com)
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Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com

Something fairly common happened last week at Commonwealth Stadium.

Marcus Lattimore took over a game in the second half.

For the fourth time in 25 career games, Lattimore carried for more than 100 yards in the second half (108, to be exact), including 59 yards in the fourth quarter, as unbeaten South Carolina rallied for a 38-17 victory over Kentucky that set the stage for this weekend's SEC East showdown against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Eight times Lattimore has rushed for 65 yards or more in the second half. USC has won every time.

Ten times Lattimore has rushed for more than 30 yards in the fourth quarter. No opponent is more aware of his late-game production than Georgia, which has seen the Byrnes High School graduate rush for 192 yards (79 in 2010, 113 in 2011) in the second half of the last two games, both won by USC.

Seventy-eight percent of those yards have come in the fourth quarter. Last year, Lattimore skewered the Georgia defense for a career-high 94 yards in the final period on 13 carries, including six times for 41 yards on a 10-play, 49-yard drive for a go-ahead field goal with 8:31 left.

What did USC do when Georgia responded by driving for the go-ahead touchdown? The Gamecocks gave the ball to Lattimore again. He ripped off a 36-yard run to the UGA 2-yard-line before powering over from 3 yards out for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

It wasn't the first time Georgia has felt Lattimore's wrath in the past two seasons.

Lattimore's 59 yards in the fourth quarter last week in Lexington, Ky., enhanced his status as a fourth-quarter warrior, and marked the 10th time he has rushed for greater than 30 yards in the final period. That's 40 percent of his career games.

His performance also showed that Lattimore is closing in on being completely healthy in his return from last year's severe knee injury.

With 182 and 176 yards (14.6 percent of his career rushing total), Lattimore has enjoyed two of the best games of his career against Georgia.

Will he make it a hat trick on Saturday? Lattimore says his best tactic is forgetting the past.

"These past two games (vs. UGA) really don't mean anything," Lattimore said. "I know they're going to be ready. They have a great defense, as always. We just have to continue what we've been doing and execute our plays and we'll be fine.

"We have to look at it as just another game and another game closer to our goals. It's a big game, but we have to stay focused."

USC running backs coach Everette Sands disagreed with the suggestion that Lattimore possesses some type of secret formula for success against the Bulldogs, who have always had a reputation for outstanding defenses.

"He's also had a lot of success against a lot of people," Sands said. "He's just stepping up and making plays, that's the big thing. I don't think it's anything specific to Georgia except that's who is next on the list and we're going to give it our best when we get out there."

Actually, Georgia isn't the lone SEC East opponent Lattimore has roughed over. In 10 career games against SEC East teams, Lattimore has 1,327 yards, an average of 132.7 yards per outing.

"It's good to know we can just rely on 21 and our offensive line to get the job done," USC quarterback Connor Shaw said. "But we can't go out there and run power against Georgia every play and expect to beat them."

Most years, the USC-Georgia matchup boils down to the last few possessions in the fourth quarter, and Lattimore believes this year shouldn't be any different.

"It's always a close game, and it will come down to the end on Saturday," Lattimore said. "We have a lot of veteran guys on our team that have been through this. They know how to stay focused when it is a big game. We just have to preach that to our young guys."

Seven of his 10 career 100-yard games have been against divisional opponents. He rushed for 184 and 212 yards against Tennessee and Florida, respectively, in 2010 as a true freshman. His 120-yard outing last week in Lexington marked the second time in consecutive years he had reached the century mark against the Wildcats.

"I don't think he has missed a beat," Shaw said. "He's strong. The one thing about him is he gets better as the game goes on. In the third and fourth quarters when everybody else is wearing down, he's getting stronger. That's a plus with him."

Does Lattimore get extra motivated for games against SEC East foes?

"I haven't seen it," Sands said. "To me, he comes with his lunch pail every day. Being an SEC game, of course, it's a bigger game for everybody. But he brings that same attitude every game. We're going to make sure we get the ball into his hands and run downhill."

Lattimore might be positioned for another stellar outing against Georgia. He warmed up for the Top-10 showdown by rushing for a season-high 120 yards at Kentucky. Lattimore will be vying for his third 100-yard rushing effort in six games on Saturday.

"He's getting more and more confidence. Every day he's just getting a little bit stronger," Sands said. "The big thing is, he got his carries (at UK). As he gets his carries and he gets rolling, one of the things he does a great job of is it seems like he gets stronger as the game goes on."

Lattimore carried the ball just five times in the first half of last week's game, prompting some second-guessing in the halftime locker room about game strategy. But like it has so often in the past, USC turned to Lattimore in the second half.

"It definitely crossed our mind that he had only five carries in the first half," Sands said. "He was ready to say, 'Hey, let's get this thing rolling.'"

With 440 yards and eight touchdowns on 92 carries through five games, Lattimore sits in sixth place in the SEC in rushing (Interestingly, only one of the top seven rushers in the SEC is a senior). His eight rushing touchdowns are second most in the SEC behind Georgia freshman Todd Gurley, who has nine.

If history teaches anything, Lattimore has a good chance to catch Gurley this weekend.

"Marcus had an unbelievable game two years ago (against UGA) and last year in the second half, he was great as well," USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. "He seems to always be ready to play. Obviously, we will lean on him as well on Saturday. He needs to have a good game, for sure."

Will Lattimore show the young gun how it's done when SEC heavyweights meet on Saturday?

"It's going to be a great matchup," Sands said. "Really, it's all about the defenses and which defense is going to handle those guys the best."

For in-depth coverage of Gamecock sports and recruiting, visit GamecockCentral.com.

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