Game preview: UT vs. South Carolina
Tennessee Stat Book
South Carolina stat book
AP Top 25 College Football
There's no stable of tailbacks or a prolific spread rushing attack to worry about this time.
Just the threat of one guy plowing straight ahead has been enough to give Tennessee yet another cause for concern during a brutal stretch of challenges on defense.
Next in line? A true freshman running back who has wasted little time establishing himself as perhaps the most difficult guy to bring down in the SEC in six short games, seemingly converting pass-happy South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier into a conservative grinder in the process. And though Spurrier obviously still wants the No. 17 Gamecocks to throw it around on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.) against Tennessee, having a healthy Marcus Lattimore in the backfield figures to be hard to resist.
And at 4.4 yards per carry with 12 total touchdowns already, he's equally difficult to slow down when he gets rolling.
"One thing that makes a great runner is yards after contact and (Lattimore) outworks a lot of defenders," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "He's a heavy, physical, tough runner. Everybody makes yards different ways. His way is he's going to get you on an edge and he's going to outwork you.
"He wears you down over time. He's done that to some really good defenses."
Lattimore started with Georgia's early in the season, carrying the Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2 SEC) on his back with 37 carries for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the second game of his career. He followed that up with a rugged 93 yards and two more scores in an upset of then-unbeaten Alabama a few weeks later, thrusting himself almost immediately into the conversation of best rushers at least in the conference.
At this point the Vols (2-5, 0-4) qualify as experts in that field, having faced Alabama's two-headed monster of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram, LSU's Stevan Ridley, Florida's Jeff Demps and Georgia's Washaun Ealey with various degrees of success - not to mention Oregon's high-octane spread option outside the league. And thanks to a week off to rest an injured ankle, UT's first-hand experience with Lattimore will come with him rested and back at full strength.
"He's a great back, and probably again, one of the best backs we'll see all season," linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "I feel like I've been saying that a whole lot, but it's true. He's a great runner, and it takes a lot of guys to bring him down. He has a lot of strength for an 18-year-old guy, and you don't see that a whole lot.
"No doubt he's a special breed. We're just going to have to gang-tackle, run to the ball, get all 11 guys there - we can't be leaving our teammate with one guy to bring him down, because then he goes to the (end zone). We've got to have more than one guy tackling this dude."
That's been an issue at times for the Vols, who've struggled with some blown assignments and missed tackles and paid dearly - particularly late in games when their lack of depth and experience shows up.
The challenge has been even greater lately when teams add a talented receiver to the mix, forcing the Vols to pick between an extra safety in the box to stop the run or using him to defend the pass. Alshon Jeffery certainly fits that bill for the Gamecocks, which will put even more pressure on UT's front-seven to make sure it doesn't need to call in reserves from the secondary.
"I think (the tackling) has been improved," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "A lot of that has to do with our mental intensity and focus. Tackling is ability and toughness.
"We practice it a lot and the guys have done a nice job. We've tackled basically every day we've been in pads, and we'll continue to do that if it's an issue. You're not always going to be perfect, especially when you're playing against good teams and good players."
Matching up with them is clearly nothing new by now. Lattimore is simply next in line.