Can Clemson contain freshman running back Marcus Lattimore?
That's the million dollar question headed into Saturday's rivalry game.
Given the fact he's already in the books for 1,066 yards rushing on 209 carries, ranking second among SEC runners to only Cameron Newton, it would be overstating the obvious to suggest it won't be easy.
After all, Lattimore also leads the conference with 19 touchdowns (17 rushing, two receiving).
At the West End Zone on Monday, Brandon Thompson suggested that the Gamecock's freshman running back could be one of the best Clemson has seen all season.
"Old school— he's a hard runner," Thompson said of Lattimore's running style. "He likes pounding the ball."
Defensive ends coach Chris Rumph has already watched plenty of film on Lattimore, who was rated by Scout.com as the nation's No. 1 running back in the class of 2010.
"Very rarely— I can probably count on one hand how many times I've seen him fall backwards. He's always falling forward," Rumph said. "He's strong—stronger than you think he is. He's more powerful. He's a really, really good runner with really good vision.
"But the thing that stands out about him than some of the other backs we've played, that cat is always falling forward."
Lattimore leads a South Carolina rushing attack that ranks 51st in the country with 151 yards per game. He's 16th in the nation with a 106.6 yard average.
Miguel Chavis was very matter of fact in his assessment of Lattimore.
"Everybody in this room knows what kind of player he is," he said. "People scouting him, teams that recruited him know what kind of player he is. He's fast. He runs hard. He's always trying to get positive yardage, even if he cuts sideways, before he gets hit, he's getting positive yardage. He's an explosive player."
Rumph is amazed that a back with that kind of size—6-foot, 218 pounds—can display that kind of explosiveness.
"You would think that a guy with that size would be as big and fast and as elusive as he is… he's playing like he's a junior or senior," he said.
When Lattimore is getting regular touches of the football, like the 37 times he carried it against Georgia, or the 29 times against Tennessee or the eye-popping 40 times against Florida, South Carolina is difficult to beat.
But when the freshman sensation carries the ball 14 times or less, it's a completely different story as the Gamecocks lost at Auburn when he carried it only 14 times, at Kentucky - just 15 times (mainly due to injury) and also against Arkansas when he only had 11 rushes.
What will happen Saturday?
Only time will tell, but if Clemson is to have a good chance at springing the upset, it starts by at least containing one of the SEC's most explosive players.
Can Clemson contain Lattimore?
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