East Carolina-South Carolina Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- While it wasn't pretty, No. 9 South Carolina kicked off its schedule with a tough road victory in Marcus Lattimore's return to the field last week.
The Gamecocks also got all they could handle from East Carolina last season before ultimately pulling away thanks in large part to Lattimore.
The running back might need to shoulder an even bigger load this time around with quarterback Connor Shaw uncertain to be available for Saturday's tilt against the visiting Pirates.
After tearing his left ACL and missing South Carolina's final six games of 2011, Lattimore didn't appear to be slowed at all during last Thursday's 17-13 win at Vanderbilt. The Heisman Trophy candidate carried the ball 23 times for 110 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown - his second of the day - early in the fourth quarter.
Aside from Lattimore's effort, though, the Gamecocks (1-0) failed to get much going offensively. South Carolina converted 3 of 12 third-down chances and compiled 272 yards of offense - its second-lowest total in its last 28 games.
"Maybe it's good for us," coach Steve Spurrier said. "You look at the preseason press we thought we were hot stuff. Then we almost got that stuff beat out of us.
"I want our fans to realize we are not as bad as maybe some people think we are."
South Carolina could struggle to move the ball all the more without Shaw, who suffered a deep bone bruise on his throwing arm late in the first half against the Commodores. He missed the team's first two series in the third quarter before returning.
The junior, who finished the game having completed 7 of 11 passes for 67 yards and an interception, also rushed 14 times for 92 yards. Backup Dylan Thompson, who didn't complete any of his three passes against Vanderbilt, would start Saturday if Shaw can't play.
"As a coach you don't put a player on the field that is in pain and will get hurt," Spurrier said. "Last week he said 'I can play'. Doctor said he can play. Every time he fell on his back or shoulder he got up in a little pain there. I don't think anybody wants to see that.
"If he's in pain he doesn't need to be out there playing. From what I understand he thinks he won't have any pain, but we have to wait and see."
The Gamecocks figure to be wary of the Pirates (1-0) with or without Shaw given their struggles when these programs last met.
East Carolina took a 24-14 lead into halftime against then-No. 12 South Carolina in Charlotte on Sept. 3, 2011, before getting outscored 42-13 in the second half of a 56-37 defeat.
Lattimore played a huge role in the Gamecocks' victory, rushing for 112 yards and a career high-tying three touchdowns.
"(We're) ready for ECU ... we played them last year. They had a great chance to beat us last year," said Spurrier, whose team has won 12 consecutive home games over non-conference opponents by an average of 21.4 points.
"Fortunately we had defensive scores and so forth to get into the game and finally played a little offense. Expect another tough game. They'll be ready to play. We should too. ... We should feel comfortable here at home. Hopefully we'll get our offense a little on track."
East Carolina is coming off last Saturday's season-opening 35-13 win over Appalachian State of the FCS. Rio Johnson completed 28 of 43 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns while Michael Dobson ran for a team-high 78 yards on 19 carries.
The Pirates, though, are trying to tighten their defense after getting outgained 419-390, allowing 300 yards through the air.
"The key for this second game for us is making sure that we improve fundamentally," coach Ruffin McNeill said.
"We need to make sure that we keep executing better on all three sides on the ball and play 11-man football for consistent stretches. That is a big goal for us as a staff and for our team."
After serving one-game suspensions for a violation of team policy last weekend, receivers Dayon Arrington, Danny Webster and Antonio Cannon are back with the Pirates.
Updated September 4, 2012