First things first: In discussing Marcus Lattimore with reporters on Tuesday, Florida safety Josh Evans wasn't disrespectful. He didn't talk any smack. He said specifically that he didn't want to "take anything away" from the South Carolina star running back and invoked his 2011 ACL injury.
“I think he lost a step a little bit from what we've seen before," Evans said, "but he's still showing statistics, so nothing to take away from him. I think that's due to the injury.”
As Florida blog Alligator Army documents, Lattimore's yards-per-carry numbers -- never quite eye-popping, thanks to his relative lack of long runs -- have, in fact, dipped in 2012 over his sensational 2010 freshman campaign and abbreviated 2011 season. As Evans himself points out, with Lattimore still only a year removed from major knee surgery, it would be difficult not to see a small setback in that department.
But whether Lattimore has "lost a step" or not, it doesn't make much difference where his effectiveness is concerned. A larger role in the Gamecocks' passing game has meant that Lattimore still ranks second in the SEC in yards from scrimmage, and his 10 touchdowns are tied for the league lead among all players.
It's also fair to say the stats don't always do Lattimore's bruising style justice. Though he ran for just 35 yards on 13 carries in the loss to LSU, the Tigers' success in penetrating the Carolina offensive line meant that even those 35 yards (and Lattimore's lone touchdown) were extremely hard to come by -- and yards that few other running backs would have earned.
The bottom line: Whatever the status of Lattimore's "steps," he remains far and away the Gamecocks offense's biggest and most reliable weapon. And Evans giving him even the slightest extra sliver of focus and motivation for Saturday's game might not have been the optimal way for his team to continue its preparations for stopping him.