South Carolina fans got devastating news Sunday when it was announced that backup fullback Matt Coffee would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Oh, and some guy named Marcus Lattimore will also be out for the rest of the year. Steve Spurrier was focused on that latter injury during his teleconference today, for some reason.
Our worst fears were realized. Marcus has a torn ligament and a little bit of cartilage damage in there.
As we noted yesterday, there's plenty of reason to believe that this isn't necessarily a death knell for the Gamecocks' chances in the SEC East. But, as any sentient human being who watches football can tell you, Spurrier was not stretching things with the "worst fears" bit.
The starter now will likely be Brandon Wilds, a freshman whose 5.8 yard-per-carry average is the same as Lattimore's, though that's largely been rung up in garbage time or other limited action. Now, Wilds will be playing against the first-string guys on the other defense.
How and whether he handles that difference could decide just how big a factor Lattimore's absence will be, though it's hard to see anyone coming close to replacing the team's star tailback. Kenny Miles could also get back on the field if he can get his own injury taken care of; Miles rushed 40 times for 152 yards last year, but has put together a few 100-yard games before Lattimore arrived on campus.
South Carolina will also rely more heavily on Bruce Ellington -- who's rushed 11 times for 91 yards -- running out of the Wildcat. But Spurrier seems hesitant about moving Ellington to the tailback position full-time, news that likely makes head basketball coach a very happy man. And look for more sweep plays involving Damiere Byrd; the Gamecocks have used the wideout on some runs to great effect since he came back for a four-game suspension at the beginning of the year.
But you don't replace the 13th-ranked rusher in the NCAA on a per-game basis, particularly not when you're struggling as much as South Carolina has on offense. The Gamecocks will need to get some production from Connor Shaw, Alshon Jeffery and some of the other actors on the pass game. Just because the news Sunday hasn't yet killed South Carolina's hopes for the season doesn't mean it can't.