10 months after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee, Marcus Lattimore returned to the football field as ninth-ranked South Carolina traveled to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt to open the college football season.
It did not take long for Lattimore to make an impact, but it wasn't the impact he had hoped to have. While trying to shake off the rust, worrying about the knee, and being nervous about his first carry in nearly a year, Lattimore forgot the most important thing; holding on to the football.
Lattimore got the handoff, was hit in the backfield, and Vanderbilt's Karl Butler punched the ball out of Lattimore's hand and then fell on it for the first turnover of the game.
"After that first play, it wasn't a good play, and I hated that happening, but I just had to forget about it," Lattimore said. "After a few runs, I started to feel like myself again."
It didn't take long for Lattimore to feel, and look, like himself.
Following a Shaq Wilson interception and 37-yard return and Connor Shaw 20-yard run on a zone option keep, Lattimore got another shot.
"(Wilson) came to me and said ‘you know what time it is.' He really pumped me up too," Lattimore said.
The result of the next handoff was a 29-yard touchdown run as Lattimore eluded a safety at the 10 and scampered in to give Carolina the early lead.
Lattimore would factor big on Carolina's other scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Lattimore caught two of his three receptions on the drive for 17 yards and the Gamecocks would get a big play on a 20-yard reception by Justice Cunningham with a 15-yard penalty against Vanderbilt tacked on. After his second reception of the drive, Lattimore would make a key block for Shaw on a quarterback draw to allow Shaw to dive for the end zone and come up half of a yard short. Two plays later Lattimore punched it in for his second score.
"It's so nice," Shaw said of having Lattimore on the field. "I knew that he was going to be able to come out here and pick up where he left off. He had a great game tonight."
As has often been the case in over the past two years, Lattimore would begin to rack up carry after carry and gain a few yards here and there, but then he just breaks off a big run to put him over the top. Following the touchdown drive Vandy pinned Carolina deep in their own territory. Lattimore would have an 11-yard scamper, but would then run 23 yards to go over the 100-yard mark and flip the field position.
"We weren't throwing or catching real well, so we had to run the quarterback and run Marcus," Steve Spurrier said. "That was about our offense and Justice Cunningham's catch. That's about it."
Fortunately for Carolina that is all they would need. Lattimore finished the night with 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns, along with three receptions for 21 yards as he led the team in both categories. He and Shaw would be able to run out the rest of the clock to secure the win.
"That's kind of a repeating theme the past two years," Lattimore said. "If we're letting them hang around we just have to run the ball and get out of here."
Lattimore showed the college football world what he is all about Thursday night. Coming back from a knee injury to have that kind of performance on the national stage is nothing short of remarkable. It was a tribute to the heart and dedication of Lattimore and the work of many to get his knee back to where it was before the injury.
"Words can't describe it," Lattimore said. "I just remember watching all the games from the sidelines. Thanks to Dr. (Jeffery) Guy, the whole training staff, and all the strength coaches that worked with me to get my agility back. I appreciate all of them and they'll never know how much I'll appreciate them."
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