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December 31, 2010

5 QUESTIONS: Florida State

NO. 23 FLORIDA STATE 26, NO. 19 SOUTH CAROLINA 17

1. Exactly how vital is Marcus Lattimore?
As again illustrated, South Carolina has come to depend far too heavily on the wonderful freshman. The Gamecocks eventually came back to post a 414-yard game, but not until four more turnovers were on the board after Lattimore was blasted by Greg Reid for the first. USC can replace the statistics and even the rushing numbers (Brian Maddox and Kenny Miles played gutsy, wonderful games), but for whatever reason, the offense simply doesn't function as well unless Lattimore is available. His absence led to the clueless second half at Kentucky, and also to a win at Vanderbilt that was anything but comfortable. Lattimore is a game-breaking talent and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime tailback, and the Gamecocks are happy to have him, but injuries are part of the game and when he's taken out, they flounder. They cannot have the offense be so dependent on one man because even when the other star (Alshon Jeffery) is there, USC can't get comfortable. Until, as proven on Friday, it's far too late.

2. Does this put a damper on the season?
A bit, because USC has now lost three straight bowl games and gone four straight seasons without a strong finish. While the Gamecocks did win the SEC East this year for the first time, and won nine games in a season for only the third time in program history, they again fell short when it came time for the next step. SEC championship? Maybe next year. Ten wins? Maybe next year. USC deserves a lot of credit for not giving up, especially when everything was going Florida State's way, but it still ended as a loss. For all the talk about the Gamecocks finally turning a corner " and Steve Spurrier said that it really hadn't, just taken a few steps toward it " the program takes a step back and continues to wait for a breakthrough.

3. Who leaves?
A very productive group of seniors and some fine young men who were part of a productive four seasons. USC will have to replace two starting offensive linemen plus a key backup; the fullback/H-back; a backup tailback; a starting defensive end; both starting linebackers; a deep snapper; and a punter/place-kicker. There's also the question if some of the juniors will want to leave early " the only one in question seems to be Tori Gurley, with the rest of the early applicants already stating they were coming back. Gurley didn't speak afterward, but surely wasn't smiling when he left the locker room (not that anyone else was). With or without Gurley, USC stands to return a deep, talented group and as Spurrier says, hopes to add to it with a banner recruiting class.

4. Will there be changes on special teams?
Spurrier mentioned it several times in the post-game, pointing out how Florida State massacred USC in punt returns, kick returns and how the Gamecocks simply couldn't cover. It hasn't been a glaring weakness all year (not nearly to the extent it was last year), but combined with the usual zeroes USC gets from its return game, it's yet another thorn in the side. It was asked specifically if Spurrier would change any of the direction of the special teams " Shane Beamer is the coordinator, with Jay Graham and Jeep Hunter as assistants " and Spurrier said no. He said the problem isn't with coaching, it's that the Gamecocks simply have to find better special-teams athletes.

5. Was it a good year?
The Gamecocks won more than they lost. They gave hope for the future, with several young stars. They beat several teams they don't beat often. They accomplished many firsts. Of course it was a good year. The only problem was, USC wanted this to be a great year, especially when it became apparent that it could be. The Gamecocks still lost five games, which has been the minimum per season under Spurrier. They reached some of their goals, but not all. They again lost their last game, and also lost the one before it. Good, yes, but good was thought to be a surpassed goal this year.

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