In the SEC, running backs are vital for an offense. Whether they are used in traditional fashion or as a receiving back or whatever, they are a necessity for any SEC offense that wants to succeed. With this weekend’s Florida Gators/South Carolina Gamecocks game, such importance is increased when both teams’ offenses rely heavily on quality play from their big running backs. The Gators have Mike Gillislee while the Gamecocks counter with Marcus Lattimore.
Gillislee so far has been the major component of the Gators’ offense. In close games this season, Florida has gone to Gillislee often, like they did against the Bowling Green Falcons and Texas A&M Aggies. Gillislee scored twice against the Falcons and gained a career high 148 yards on the ground. With the game against the Aggies, Gillislee’s two scores were the only two touchdowns the Gators scored in the game and Gillislee’s second score, just under two minutes into the fourth quarter, turned out to be the game-winner.
Gillislee’s play in the SEC has only been mixed because in two of the Gators’ conference games, Gillislee wasn’t used as much as he normally is. Granted those games were a blowout win against the Kentucky Wildcats and last week’s win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, and the game last week saw Gators’ quarterback Jeff Driskel do most of the running. In the two competitive conference games the Gators have had, Gillislee has come to play. Against the Tennessee Volunteers, Gillislee gained over 100 yards, but then against the LSU Tigers, Gillislee gained 146 yards on a good rush defense and scored both of the Gators’ touchdowns in their upset win.
Whether it’s only gaining yards or only scoring touchdowns or both, Gillislee being in the backfield is necessary for the Gators’ offense to succeed.
As necessary to the success of his offense, if not more, is Lattimore. And with their big running back listed as doubtful as of right now for the game this weekend, that value may end up being visible on the field.
Lattimore’s biggest contribution to the Gamecocks is his scoring with ten touchdown runs through seven games, and having never failed to score a touchdown in any of the Gamecocks’ games so far this season.
In the tough games for the Gamecocks, it has been the tough yards that Lattimore has gained for them that has made a difference. Look back at the Gamecocks’ season opener against the Commodores and you’ll see that Connor Shaw was struggling at quarterback while Lattimore was the go-to guy. The same can be seen during the Gamecocks’ beating of the Georgia Bulldogs, except with a much better showing from Shaw. It’s a study in trying to make the most with every carry.
This seems to be what Lattimore subtly brings to the Gamecocks’ offense, but he couldn’t do it last week. In Baton Rouge against the Tigers, Lattimore only had thirteen carries (season low is twelve) and only gained 35 yards. He did make it into the end-zone, but that was a first half touchdown. Lattimore didn’t get close to the end-zone in the second half. That and his inability to gain yards did have an effect on how the Gamecocks’ offense functioned.
The Gamecocks depend on Lattimore for yards and for scores, ditto for the Gators and Gillislee. Without one or both, both offenses seem out of whack and don’t play as good. These men seem to be the glue behind their respective offenses. They, more than their team’s quarterbacks it seems at times, are the men that their teams depend on to be successful. And while both team’s quarterbacks are not incapable of having a good game without the support of their respective running backs, that lack of support makes it so much harder to have that good game. And that difficulty could spell defeat for one on Saturday.