KNOXVILLE — It’s often easier to judge a player’s value to his team when he’s not on the field.
Exhibit A: South Carolina freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore.
In barely more than one half at Kentucky on Oct. 16, the five-star phenom accounted for 212 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns — a 30-yard run, a 10-yard run and a 47-yard catch.
The Gamecocks, who’d beaten then-No. 1 Alabama the week before, led 28-10 when Lattimore left the lineup early in the third quarter. Kentucky won 31-28.
South Carolina’s offense has several good players and at least one other bona fide star in sophomore wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. But Jeffery was on the field all last season and for the second half of the Gamecocks’ loss at Kentucky.
“He’s just a very productive back,” Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said of Lattimore, who’s expected back against the Volunteers on Saturday. “He’s a strong runner. Pretty impressive for being a true freshman. He’s got good acceleration, really good vision in the hole, and he’s been really productive for them.
“Not many guys go into a program like that and start right off the bat. He’s been one of those special guys.”
Vols head coach Derek Dooley joked that Lattimore probably got “good and oiled up” for the Vols during his time off the field.
“He probably got massaged, you know,” Dooley said. “He’s stretching, got a chiropractor on him getting ready for the Tennessee game. Watching the film, licking his chops, can’t wait.”
The Vols are ninth in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 161.6 yards per game. They’re last in the league in total defense, allowing 403.1 yards per game.
UT true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray probably will rotate in again for junior starter Matt Simms at least some at South Carolina, and some of Bray’s teammates hope he will take better verbal command of the offense.
When asked about any major differences in the offense when Bray comes in for Simms, junior running back Tauren Poole laughed and said “how slow the cadence is.”
Dooley said he’s aware of the constructive criticism some veteran teammates have given Bray about his huddle and cadence management.
“I’ve been aware of it for nine months,” Dooley said. “You know, when I tell y’all ‘game administration’ [when you ask] what he needs to improve on? All right, well part of administrating the game and the offense is presenting the play and the cadence to the offense. That comes with confidence and time and knowledge. Tyler, by his nature, one of his great qualities — being calm, cool and collected — also can be a little bit of a liability before the play starts from a command standpoint, if that makes sense.
“He’s just got to work on being more vocal, being more authoritative before the snap. We had a delay of game, and he’s over there yelling, ‘Hut! Hut! Hut,’ and no one’s moving. I mean, that’s what happened.
“I tell you guys, I just keep going through things I’ve never been through before.”