COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Marcus Lattimore ran for more yards against Navy than South Carolina Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers ran for in any one game during his remarkable career.
And the No. 10 Gamecocks (3-0) needed just about every one of Lattimore's career-high 246 yards to hold off the Midshipmen 24-21 on Saturday.
The sophomore carried 37 times and averaged 6.6 yards a run. South Carolina ran 37 plays in the second half, and the Lattimore touched the ball on 26 of them.
"We figured the best way to try to win the game was to just hand it to him and keep blocking," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said.
Rogers' best day ever for South Carolina was 237 yards in 1978 against Wake Forest.
Lattimore said he would have run more if he had to. He said he felt stronger in the fourth quarter, and was three carries away from tying his career high. Lattimore ran the ball 13 of South Carolina's 18 plays in the fourth quarter, and that included a kneel down by quarterback Stephen Garcia at the end of the game.
"I feel good right now," Lattimore said. "It don't hit you until about 9 o'clock in the morning."
Navy (2-1) stopped Lattimore for a loss just once, and it was on a fourth down with 5:34 to go, giving the Midshipmen a shot to win with their option attack that had left the Gamecocks defense befuddled at times.
But freshman defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney managed to hit quarterback Kriss Proctor in the backfield on a first down play before he could check his options, then hurried Proctor on several more plays, leaving the Midshipmen no choice but to pass.
Antonio Allen picked off a fourth-down throw with a minute to go to seal the win.
It was a painful blow for Navy, which was trying to upset a top 10 team for the first time since the Midshipmen broke South Carolina fans' hearts by upsetting the then-No. 2 and undefeated Gamecocks 38-21 in November 1984. South Carolina hasn't handled being highly ranked very well under Spurrier, going just 1-2 when in the top 10.
"Our guys are heartbroken right now," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "It's a tough pill to swallow."
The Midshipmen ran their option efficiently, rushing for 274 yards split among seven players. Fullback Alex Teich led them with 93 yards rushing and a touchdown. Proctor added 68 yards against a defense that was allowing just 137 yards a game coming in.
Garcia appeared to have an off night, overthrowing several receivers and throwing the ball as he got hit that led to an interception on South Carolina's first possession of the third quarter. Garcia was 18 of 25 for 204 yards, mostly on short passes. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery didn't start because he broke a team rule and finished with two catches for 35 yards.
The struggles in the air left Spurrier concerned with undefeated Vanderbilt coming to town next Saturday.
"I can only do so much. I can't worry about everything," Spurrier said. "I'm trying to get our passing game in a little bit better shape. We seem to be struggling a bit throwing."
Well, there's always Lattimore, who touched the ball on 41 of his team's 69 plays and caught four passes for 25 yards.
"A back like that can do anything he wants if you don't gang tackle him. He's shifty, he's explosive and hits the smallest holes there are. You might think you have him bottled down but he sneaks through there," Midshipmen defensive back Kwesi Mitchell said.
Garcia said Lattimore and the offensive line deserve most of the credit for South Carolina's 3-0 start. Lattimore ran for 1,197 yards and was the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year in 2010. He is averaging 178 yards a game so far as a sophomore.
"You can't thank that guy enough," Garcia said.
The difference in the game may have come at the end of the second quarter. Navy stopped Garcia on a keeper, forcing a fourth-and-7 from the Navy 49. The Midshipmen didn't call a time-out, and the Gamecocks let the play clock run down before calling their own time-out with 24 seconds to go.
Garcia then completed a 12-yard pass to Justice Cunningham and a 5-yard pass to Lattimore, leaving enough time for Jay Wooten to kick a 48-yard field goal to end the half.
For the third time this season, Spurrier came out of a game saying his team didn't play up to its potential. But he also said any team that wins championships has at least a few close games to look back on and feel fortunate to end up with a win.
"I'm embracing it," said Spurrier, who improved to 43-0 against teams outside the BCS. "This is the kind of game you lose."
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