Published November 02, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina running back Kenny Miles sees the same desire, the same drive, the same focus from the Gamecocks, even with tailback Marcus Lattimore on the sidelines.
The 11th-ranked Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) have a much-needed week off before closing out league play at home against Arkansas on Nov. 10.
Miles, a senior, will start in place of Lattimore, the star tailback who was lost for the season after a gruesome knee injury last week against Tennessee. Lattimore dislocated his right knee and had severe ligament damage, an injury coach Steve Spurrier said would likely need more than one surgery to repair.
Losing a leader and team captain like Lattimore is a blow, Miles said. But the Gamecocks have made it through this storm before, going 5-1 after Lattimore tore a ligament in his left knee midway through the 2011 season.
"It's definitely a tough situation," said Miles, the team's leading rusher in 2009, the season before Lattimore arrived. "But we've still got the pieces, still got the people, still got the coaches. We're focused and ready to go."
Lattimore, though, remains in the Gamecocks' thoughts. Tight end Justice Cunningham has worn Lattimore's No. 21 at practice this week as a tribute, the way he's done with other injured teammates this year.
"Just to love for the boys," Cunningham said.
Lattimore is the team's leading rusher with 662 yards and 11 touchdowns. His two primary backups this season, Miles and freshman Mike Davis, have 306 yards and two touchdowns combined.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said it was important for the players not to dwell on Lattimore's absence during the team's workouts during the bye week. He says the focus has been on what went wrong on the field in the 38-35 victory over Tennessee and not about who won't be with them the rest of the way.
"I think the kids came out focused," Ward said. "We've watched the game tape and showed them the mistakes we made and showed them the places we can get better. I think they came out with a great mentality."
It's hard to erase the memory of Lattimore's gruesome injury for anyone who watched it happen or saw him sobbing in pain and disappointment last Saturday. Several players, including Miles, took part in a rally of support on campus for Lattimore this past Monday, the tailback's 21st birthday.
The support has stretched across the SEC, from Tennessee's players walking out to wish him well as Lattimore lay hurt on the turf to players like Auburn' running back Tre Mason and LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery dedicating their performances to the South Carolina runner.
That's no surprise, said Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who befriended Lattimore in the recruiting process and found a well-rounded, level-headed person who cared about the right things — people, academics, faith and football.
"He's a different guy," Chizik said. "I think that he's not only a tremendous football player on the field, he's probably a better person off the field."
Spurrier announced to a crowd of more than 1,000 at the rally Monday that Lattimore told him he'd be back on the field. Right now, though, Spurrier's concerned with getting ready for Arkansas by tightening up his team's pass defense and building on quarterback Connor Shaw's career showing.
Tennessee's Tyler Bray riddled the Gamecocks' usually solid defense for 381 yards and four touchdowns through the air. It took Jadeveon Clowney's strip of Bray and a fumble recovery with the Vols inside South Carolina's 20 in the final two minutes to secure the game.
Shaw, benched for the second half against Florida a week earlier, threw for a career high 356 yards and three TDs. Shaw was in a walking boot with foot sprain, but Spurrier expected him to be ready for full practice next week.
Spurrier knows Lattimore's presence, style and ability make him hard to forget. In time, Spurrier believes Lattimore will again perform on the field whether it's for the Gamecocks or in the NFL.
"As we know, doctors can do miracles these days putting knees back together," Spurrier said. "We hope that happens."
He's got the Gamecocks pointed on the rest of the season, one they'll again finish without their leader in the backfield. "It's happened, now we've got to move on," Spurrier said.