Florida Gators: Marcus Lattimore

It’s Rankings Week at GatorNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Florida football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Gators’ schedule. On Tuesday we’ll rank the top 10 offensive players Florida will face in the fall.

Ranking the schedule

1. Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.): Sure, the Bulldogs lost nine starters on defense, but Aaron Murray, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are coming back, and that makes them one of the SEC’s best teams. Georgia scored a school-record 529 points last season behind those three, and the offense figures to be explosive again in 2013. It’ll need to be to carry a rebuilt defense.
We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

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SEC's most memorable moments in 2012

January, 14, 2013
We at the SEC blog carried a makeshift camera with us all season and are pleased to provide you with snapshots of some of the more memorable moments from the 2012 season.

Some were obvious. Some weren’t so obvious.

Either way, it was another banner season for the SEC, which produced its seventh consecutive national championship and became the first conference in history to have five of the top 10 teams -- 1. Alabama, T-5. Georgia, T-5. Texas A&M, 8. South Carolina and 9. Florida -- in the final rankings.

Sit back and enjoy.

Alabama’s repeat: Rebounding from a November home loss to Texas A&M, Alabama became the first team since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 to repeat as national champions with a 42-14 battering of previously unbeaten Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship. The Crimson Tide mauled the Irish physically and scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. The game was over by the time the second quarter began, and Alabama’s historic run had officially become a dynasty. The Crimson Tide won their third outright national title in four years, the first school to accomplish that feat since Notre Dame in the late 1940s.

[+] EnlargeManziel
John David Mercer/US PresswireJohnny Manziel was at his finest in Texas A&M's upset of Alabama.
Manziel’s magic: The upset heard around the country this season was Texas A&M’s 29-24 win over No. 1-ranked Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And who can forget Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s performance in that game, a showing that paved the way for Manziel to become the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy? The play that will forever stand out from that game is his 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope. Manziel somehow managed to avoid the rush up the middle, fumbled the ball to himself in midair and then scrambled left and threw back across his body to a wide-open Swope in the end zone. It was Johnny Football at his finest.

Mosley’s tip: Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley got just enough fingers on the football to deflect Aaron Murray’s pass in the final seconds of the SEC championship game. The ball careened into the hands of Georgia receiver Chris Conley, who slipped to the turf at the Alabama 5-yard line as time expired. Alabama survived 32-28 and earned the right to play for another national championship in one of the most exciting SEC championship games in history.

Clowney’s hit: They’re referring to it as simply “The Hit” in South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ all-world sophomore defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, leveled Michigan running back Vincent Smith, sending both Smith’s helmet and the ball flying. Clowney snatched the ball up with his left hand in one of those plays that becomes even more jaw dropping every time you see it.

Miles’ outburst: LSU coach Les Miles has been must-see TV for a long time now. But do yourself a favor and go relive his “What a game!” performance during his news conference following LSU’s 41-35 victory over Ole Miss. An emotional Miles even dropped an F-bomb and then implored fans to thank the "spectacular group" of LSU players with this memorable line: “You go find them, throw your arms around them and give them a big kiss on the mouth ... if you're a girl."

Screen to Yeldon: With Tiger Stadium roaring, Alabama awakened offensively in the final minutes, and quarterback AJ McCarron led the Crimson Tide on a game-winning drive that was capped by a 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for a touchdown with 51 seconds to play. McCarron was 1-for-7 for 0 yards in the second half before that final drive, which allowed Alabama to escape 21-17.

Franklin’s hug: Vanderbilt’s 38-24 win over North Carolina State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl earned the Commodores their first nine-win season since 1915. Afterward, a Vanderbilt fan made his way into the news conference and thanked second-year coach James Franklin for what he’d done for the program. Franklin stopped the news conference, gave the fan a big hug and told him thanks for sticking with the Commodores. “You’re due for this,” Franklin exclaimed.

Support for Lattimore: No moment was more tear jerking, and yet, heartwarming than the injury to South Carolina star tailback Marcus Lattimore this season. Sadly, Lattimore blew his knee out for the second straight season in the 38-35 win over Tennessee. As he lay on the field in pain after going down with the injury, players, coaches and support personnel from both teams surrounded Lattimore on the field in a touching show of support. It's the kind of thing you rarely, if ever, see on a football field and says volumes about the universal respect Lattimore has as a player and as a person.

Jones' strip: Great players make great plays, and Jarvis Jones' strip of Florida tight end Jordan Reed was the play that sent Georgia to the SEC championship game for the second straight year and kept Florida at home despite a huge turnaround for the Gators this season. Reed was motoring for the end zone with just over two minutes to play in Jacksonville, but Jones was able to punch the ball loose inside the 5, and the Bulldogs recovered in the end zone. It was one of two forced fumbles for Jones, who also had three sacks in the 17-9 win.

Ole Miss' resurgence: The Rebels entered the season with a 14-game SEC losing streak. But under the guidance of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, they scrapped their way to a 7-6 season, which included a resounding 41-24 win over rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale after three straight losses to the Bulldogs. The Rebels then followed that up with a 38-17 rout of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Hotty Toddy!

SEC power rankings

December, 5, 2012
We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:

1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.

2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

3. Georgia (11-2; LW: 2): You have to feel for the Bulldogs after their heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the Georgia Dome. The offense, led by a very steady Aaron Murray, played one of its best games and ended up literally being a play away from replacing Alabama in Miami. History won't be kind to this team because it lost the biggest game of the season, but the Bulldogs had a heck of a season. After being counted out because of their blowout loss to South Carolina, the Dawgs cruised into Atlanta with six straight wins, with four coming by an average of 32 points.

4. Texas A&M (10-2; LW: 4): Led by Heisman front-runner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies are headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to face Oklahoma in what should be one of the most exciting bowls of the season. Texas A&M has one of the nation's best offenses, and scored 40 or more times seven times this season. The Aggies also registered 600-plus yards of total offense six times. That win against No. 1 Alabama stands out as a major victory for this program.

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2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012

Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?

In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?

The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.

If you think everybody else in college football is tired of seeing the SEC win all the time, try taking the temperature of fans in Baton Rouge, La., or Athens, Ga., or Auburn, Ala., over how tired they are of seeing Alabama win all the time.

The Crimson Tide will be chasing history Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship game against Notre Dame when they go after their third national title in the past four years. The last team to win three outright national titles in a four-year span was Notre Dame in 1946, 1947 and 1949.

An Alabama victory in Miami would mark the seventh consecutive national championship for the SEC, which might have been as balanced and strong across the board this season as any of the seasons during its national championship run.

The final BCS standings looked more like the SEC standings. Six of the top 10 teams were from the SEC, and all six won at least 10 games.

And talk about beating up on each other.

Texas A&M, in its first season in the SEC, waltzed into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset Alabama 29-24 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Georgia lost by four touchdowns to South Carolina back in October, but rebounded to make its second consecutive appearance in the SEC championship game. It wasn’t until the final play that Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia was decided last weekend in Atlanta.

Florida is headed back to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009 thanks to a transformation in Will Muschamp’s second season that saw the Gators go from being soft at times in 2011 to one of the most physical teams in the league this season. Florida will meet Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after collecting four victories over teams that finished in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.

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Muschamp's plan works in Year 2

November, 29, 2012
We all snickered at him.

You did. I did. Other coaches probably did, too.

But while we stuck our noses up at Will Muschamp and his Florida Gators, he snickered right back. Well, he probably just shrugged us off because the last thing he cares about is what anyone not wearing orange and blue says about him or his program.

Kudos to the second-year coach who told us that all he needed was more discipline and tougher (physically and mentally) players in order to win games. He never talked about lighting up the scoreboard, and even with his wildly inconsistent offense, Florida went 11-1 and beat four Top-10 BCS teams in the process.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp and Florida beat four Top-10 BCS teams this year.
What looked like an eight- or-nine-win team entering the season, was a win away from taking the SEC Eastern Division and is No. 4 in the BCS standings. The Gators were far from flashy offensively, but were tremendous on defense and special teams.

Muschamp didn't ask his team to score 50 points a game or average 400 yards of offense. He just wanted his team to outscore its opponents, no matter how it happened.

Every week that Muschamp barked about being satisfied with the ugly wins, we laughed, saying his Gators couldn't keep up such an ugly game plan. But the wins kept coming -- ugly and unconventional.

Then, Florida goes into Tallahassee and thumps rival Florida State and it's No. 1 defense with an almost perfect offensive plan. Where was that offense hiding since the first half of the season?

We still don't know what to make of this team, but Muschamp's plan of toughness and building a strong running game (the Gators averaged 194.1 yards a game) and a smothering defense (ranks fifth nationally in total defense) worked.

The Gators aren't playing for the SEC title or the national title, but one could argue that Florida has the best resume in college football. Florida owns the nation's toughest schedule and beat both Texas A&M and Florida State on the road.

Top-ranked Notre Dame might be undefeated, while No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia (the only team to beat Florida) are playing in Atlanta, but Florida had a much tougher road to get to 11-1. Just ask Muschamp.

"Guys, our resume speaks for itself. I mean, c’mon," Muschamp said this week. "You guys have covered the southeast. You guys have covered the SEC. You’ve seen where we’ve played, who we’ve played and the quality of football teams we’ve beaten. We'll play anyone anywhere, whatever that slogan is."

And with the way the Gators have won, it would be tough to bet against them.

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Week 11 in the SEC

November, 5, 2012
Here's a quick primer for Week 11 in the SEC:

Arkansas (4-5, 2-3 SEC) at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2SEC), Noon ET, CBS: The Gamecocks are rested from the bye and the hope is the emotions from Marcus Lattimore's season-ending injury won't hurt this team's mindset. Arkansas escaped Tulsa over the weekend and will have to play its most complete game to top South Carolina. Both have a lot to play for, as a BCS bowl is still in the cards for the Gamecocks, while Arkansas needs two more wins to grab a bowl berth.

Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SECNetwork: Both of these teams are in desperate need of a win. Missouri's offense has sputtered along in SEC play, while Tennessee's defense has been sliced and diced by its opponents all season. Something has to give on Saturday. With Texas A&M still on the schedule, the Tigers might have to get this win if they are going to go bowling, while another Vols win will help take a little heat off of coach Derek Dooley.

Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3) at No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Gators begin two weeks of cupcake play with the Ragin' Cajuns. The next two weeks should be devoted to figuring things out in the passing game for the Gators. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting little help outside of tight end Jordan Reed. The good news for Florida is that Louisiana-Lafayette is 118th nationally in pass defense, so if the Gators are going to get some confidence back in its passing game, Saturday should be a good start.

No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC)at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: With the Crimson Tide coming off of a very physical and a very emotional win over LSU, the Aggies don't give Alabama the best matchup this weekend. LSU provided a bit of a blueprint on how to beat the Tide, and Texas A&M's high-flying offense is capable of generating some yards and points on this Tide defense. Containing Johnny Manziel will be Alabama's top objective, while the Aggies will be looking to stop the Tide's bullish running game.

No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: A win for Georgia and the Bulldogs are heading to the SEC championship game for the second straight year. After being counted out (again), Georgia is in complete control of the East and is a win away from silencing a lot of those critics in Athens. Auburn finally got its second win of the year last weekend and has a new quarterback in Jonathan Wallace. The offense made strides against New Mexico State and this is a game that the Bulldogs can't overlook. It's a rivalry game and it's a night game in one of college football's best venues.

Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: When it comes to the postseason, this is a must-win for both teams. Vandy is cruising along on a three-game winning streak, while the Rebels are coming off of a blowout loss to Georgia. Ole Miss has dropped two straight to the Commodores and with LSU and Mississippi State remaining, this might be Ole Miss' best chance to get that sixth win. Things are really clicking for the Commodores, and they'll enter Saturday's game with a lot more momentum than the Rebels.

No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 7 LSU(7-2, 3-2 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Tigers will likely feel quite the hangover from that tough loss to Alabama, but the Bulldogs are coming off of an embarrassing loss to Texas A&M. This will be another night game in Death Valley and the Tigers know they are still in line to reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl if they win out. LSU played its best offensive game of the season, while the Bulldogs have taken plenty of steps back on both sides of the ball in the past two weeks.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
We've got a few big games in the SEC this weekend and here's what you should be watching out for in Week 9:

1. Taking the East: It'll be quite the party in Jacksonville on Saturday, as this game will essentially decide the SEC East. If Florida wins, the Gators are headed back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. A Georgia win gives the Bulldogs the edge in the East race from here on out. The Gators haven't dealt with success like this lately, so it'll be interesting to see how this team comes out against a Bulldogs team that has its back against the wall, just like last season. One thing playing in Georgia's favor is this team has been here before and fought its way out of a corner ... all the way to the SEC championship game.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Denny Medley/US PresswireThe Bulldogs need to get pressure on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who has only been sacked 13 times this season.
2. Pressuring McCarron: A lot of the talk surrounding the Alabama-Mississippi State matchup has dealt with AJ McCarron facing Mississippi State's very talented secondary. But if the Bulldogs are going to stop Alabama's balanced offense, they have to put pressure on McCarron and force him to make mistakes. The Bulldogs haven't been great at hurrying the quarterback this season and have registered just 11 sacks on the year, while Alabama's line has given up just 15 sacks. Obviously, this team has to defend the run, but getting to McCarron is going to be very important for Mississippi State's defense.

3. Arkansas' revival: Remember when the Razorbacks were basically dead in the water? Well, Arkansas has won two straight and things are starting to click for the Hogs. Their last two wins have come against Auburn and Kentucky, but wins are wins in this league, and Arkansas' confidence is flowing right now. Saturday's game with Ole Miss is crucial as far as Arkansas' bowl hopes go. The Hogs need three more wins and one of them has to come Saturday with the gauntlet that is November coming up. Players said the bye week helped clean up some of the little things, and that defense will have to be at its best against Ole Miss' high-powered offense.

4. Slowing down the run: Going back to the Hogs' defense, if Arkansas is going to control Ole Miss' offense, it has to stop the Rebels on the ground. Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 211.4 yards per game. Arkansas has stopped the run well in its past two games, but neither of those running games were on par with Ole Miss' rush game. Tennessee and Georgia also have to control the opposing run games. Florida is third in the league in rushing and its offense has gone the way of its rushing attack for most of the year. If the Bulldogs can force Florida into more passing situations, it could benefit Georgia. The same goes for Tennessee, as the Gamecocks will look to run Marcus Lattimore as much as possible. Connor Shaw struggled throwing the ball last week, so the Vols will try to make him beat them Saturday.

5. Georgia's defensive toughness: Senior safety Shawn Williams created a stir when he called the play of his defense "soft" and then proceeded to name which linebackers should be playing more. Some feelings were hurt, but Mark Richt hopes it motivates his players. Williams' words very well could, but the pressure is now on him to play one of his best games. But this defense has to toughen up as a whole. It hasn't played well in the past three games, and that has to change against Florida's tough running game. Giving up big plays have really hurt this defense lately, and Georgia can't afford that Saturday.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Florida 44, S. Carolina 11 

October, 21, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida moved a step closer to an SEC East championship by routing South Carolina and former coach Steve Spurrier on Saturday. The Gators didn’t look impressive on offense but -- as usual -- made some adjustments at halftime and were better in the second half.

Here are the good and the bad from the 44-11 victory at Florida Field, which marked the first time the Gators have beaten former coach Steve Spurrier without Tim Tebow on the roster:


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Lattimore won't start for Gamecocks

October, 19, 2012
South Carolina expects star running back Marcus Lattimore to play Saturday at No. 2 Florida, but won't know for sure until pregame warm-ups.

What has been determined is that Lattimore won't start the game. Coach Steve Spurrier said Thursday night that senior Kenny Miles would start at tailback and that freshman Mike Davis would also be ready.

Lattimore, slowed by a bruised hip, returned to practice Thursday, but was limited.

"Marcus, with that bruised hip, he's not going to start the game," Spurrier said Thursday night on his weekly radio show. "He's going to go, and we'll see how he does in warm-ups. But Kenny Miles is ready to go and so is Mike Davis. They've both practiced very well this week. But if Marcus says, 'Coach, I can go,' he's going to be in there sometime in the game. If not, Kenny Miles and Mike Davis will be our two tailbacks."

Not having Lattimore at all would be a huge blow for the No. 7 Gamecocks, especially with his penchant for getting the tough yards. Being able to convert on third-and-short and run the ball in the red zone will be crucial for South Carolina against a Florida defense ranked third in the SEC in rushing defense and allowing just 107.5 yards per game.

It would be a big surprise to Lattimore's teammates and his position coach, Everette Sands, if Lattimore didn't play. Sands said Wednesday when Lattimore didn't practice that he expected Lattimore to be ready to go.

Lattimore, who leads the Gamecocks in rushing with 584 yards and in receptions with 22, had a career-high 212 rushing yards on 40 carries and scored three touchdowns as a freshman at the Swamp in 2010.

Miles has carried the ball 27 times for 100 yards this season.

Edward Aschoff discusses the keys to the Florida-South Carolina matchup.
No. 7 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC) at No. 2 Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Florida Field, Gainesville, Fla.

Three storylines

1. Division race: This game won’t officially decide the Eastern Division championship, but it will give the winner the inside track. If the Gators win, all they would have to do is beat Georgia on Oct. 27 to win the title. If South Carolina wins, the Gamecocks would have the tiebreaker over Florida and Georgia. They still have games against Arkansas and Tennessee remaining, and the Gators would need to win out and have South Carolina and Georgia lose another game to win the title.

2. M.A.S.H units: Both teams have been ravaged by injuries and the flu. South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has a bruised hip and coach Steve Spurrier said he may not start. Plus, DT Kelcy Quarles is doubtful because of a shoulder injury and DE Jadeveon Clowney is bothered by a foot injury. Several other Gamecocks are banged up, too. There’s also been a flu bug that has run through the team this week, and it caused WRs Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington to miss practice. Florida has five starters recovering from injuries: G James Wilson (eye), C Jonotthan Harrison (arm), LT Xavier Nixon (upper body), DE Dominique Easley (knee) and LB Jelani Jenkins (hamstring). UF coach Will Muschamp said all should play against the Gamecocks, but he has been vague about injuries before. If UF’s players do return, that will give the Gators the advantage.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSouth Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw might not have the track speed of Florida counterpart Jeff Driskel, but he's got a better track record as a passer.
3. Make plays in the passing game: Going on the assumption that Sanders and Ellington have recovered from the flu, this is an area which clearly favors South Carolina. Sanders and Ellington both have 17 catches, but Ellington is the big-play receiver. Sanders averages 9.4 yards per catch while Ellington averages 15.6. Connor Shaw is a dual-threat quarterback -- as is UF’s Jeff Driskel -- but Shaw is a more accomplished passer and is completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 910 yards and 10 TDs with four interceptions. UF is last in the SEC in passing (145.0 yards per game). UF’s biggest weapon in the passing game is TE Jordan Reed (21 catches, 237 yards, one TD), but the WRs have struggled to get separation and to consistently make plays. Frankie Hammond (11 catches) has two catch-and-run TDs of 50 yards or longer, but he’s also got four drops. UF’s wide receivers have a combined 30 catches.

Gators to watch

RB Mike Gillislee: He didn’t put up great numbers against Vanderbilt (67 yards on 17 carries) but he did shred LSU’s defense for 146 yards. He’ll need to have similar success against the Gamecocks.

LB Jon Bostic: Bostic has benefitted from the new strength program as much as anyone. He’s more physical than he was last season and he’s able to shed blocks easier. His play will be key to the Gators’ effort to limit Lattimore.

RB Omarius Hines: It seems like every time Hines touches the ball, good things happen (except, of course, for his fumble against Bowling Green). The Gators are in need of playmakers in the passing game, and Hines should get a few chances on Saturday.

Gamecocks to watch

DE Devin Taylor: Clowney gets all the publicity, but Taylor is a dangerous pass rusher as well. Though he only has 1.5 sacks this season, he has 17.0 in his career. If the Gators pay too much attention to Clowney, Taylor could hurt them.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 2 Florida plays host to No. 7 South Carolina on Saturday with first place in the SEC's Eastern Division on the line. While this game won’t clinch the title, a victory for the Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1) would give them the tiebreaker over the Gators (6-0, 5-0) and Georgia (5-1, 3-1).

Here's five storylines for the game:

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina's Marcus Lattimore
AP Photo/John AmisSouth Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has 584 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games this season.
1. Running game is key: Both teams are built on the running game and both have very good workhorse backs. South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore likely would already have more than 3,000 career yards had he not missed five games in 2011 with an ACL injury. But the 6-foot-2, 218-pound junior seems to have recovered well and has run for 584 yards and 10 TDs this season. He’s a physical runner who moves the pile and doesn’t get stopped behind the line of scrimmage. UF’s Mike Gillislee was a role player his first three seasons but has been fantastic as the Gators’ top tailback this season (615 yards, 7 TDs). The 5-11, 209-pound senior is also a physical, between-the-tackles runner, but he’s also got breakaway speed and a surprising amount of wiggle. Both of them will be fed the ball a lot on Saturday and limiting their impact on the game will be top task for each defense.

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Video: Lattimore's status uncertain

October, 17, 2012
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore did not practice Wednesday because of a bruised hip and coach Steve Spurrier said he may not start Saturday against Florida.

UF can't overlook Shaw's legs

October, 17, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn doesn’t want his defense doing what Vanderbilt’s defense did last week: concentrate so much on stopping UF RB Mike Gillislee that QB Jeff Driskel was able to run wild.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSouth Carolina QB Connor Shaw has the ability to break down defenses with his arm and his legs.
If the Gators get so caught up in stopping South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore on Saturday at Florida Field, it’ll mean a big game on the ground for Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw.

"Not only do they have a mobile QB, they also have a quarterback-running game package, where there are some direct quarterback runs and those kinds of things," Quinn said Wednesday. "You have to do a really good job of setting the edges because sometimes when you face a guy who has the speed to get outside he’ll break contain, and then try to create a play that way. That dual-threat certainly is something we have to work hard on in practice."

Shaw was one of several mobile quarterbacks who hurt the Gators last season, rushing for 88 yards and two TDs in the Gamecocks’ 17-12 victory. He has rushed for 280 yards and one touchdown this season, including 78 yards on 14 carries in the Gamecocks’ rout of Georgia.

"He’s an athlete," DT Omar Hunter said. "He’s hard-nosed, tough. He can take some shots. He can kill you with his legs."

However, the Gators have already proven they’re better at dealing with mobile quarterbacks this season. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and scrambled out of trouble numerous times in the first half of the matchup on Sept. 8. UF limited him to 19 yards on eight carries in the second half.

Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers scrambled for 20 yards and a touchdown and kept several other plays alive that ended with completions in the Gators’ victory in Gainesville last season. UF held him to minus-27 yards on 11 carries last Saturday.


McElwain discusses new Florida football
SEC Network's Greg McElory and Booger McFarland sit down to discuss the future of Florida football with head coach Jim McElwain.