COLUMBIA — Kenny Miles wasn’t sure he wanted to spend another season just getting spot duty when South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore needed a breather. Now, all the eyes are again on Miles when the 12th-ranked Gamecocks face Arkansas.
Miles was South Carolina’s leading rusher in 2009, but that was the year before Lattimore came to campus and became one of the Southeastern Conference’s top rushers.
Miles went through Senior Day festivities last fall as he considered leaving the program after four seasons. Miles stayed, though, and will start Saturday against the Razorbacks (4-5, 2-3 SEC).
“I’m prepared and ready to go,” said Miles, a fifth-year senior.
It’s the first game for South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) since the gruesome knee injury to Lattimore two weeks ago against Tennessee. Lattimore has had surgery and could need more than a year of recovery. He was supposed to be at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend as the school unveils his name in the building as the team’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (38).
But on Thursday, the school said team physician Dr. Jeffrey Guy, trainer Clint Haggard and Lattimore decided the junior shouldn’t attend.
While the fans won’t get to cheer for Lattimore, there could be plenty of praise for Miles, who stuck it out after Lattimore surpassed him.
Miles started seven games and rushed for 626 yards as a freshman three years ago. But he’d gained only 356 yards the next two seasons as Lattimore ate up yardage and helped South Carolina to a 20-7 record – the school’s best-ever two-year mark.
It wasn’t easy for Miles to watch, but he liked Lattimore and loved the team’s success.
“Of course, you want to be the starting back, but you’ve got to think what’s best for the team at the time that was what was best for the team,” he said. “I was happy we were winning and I wasn’t really worried about me personally.”
But with his pending graduation last December, Miles thought hard about what was next. He was not the team’s first choice when Lattimore injured his left knee last October; freshman Brandon Wilds was starting.
Miles ran out onto the field for senior ceremonies against Clemson, not really expecting he’d play a key role with 71 yards rushing in South Carolina’s 34-13 victory later that night.
Miles got the start in the Capital One Bowl and had 67 yards in the 30-13 win, then started wondering if he wanted to play one last year – even as Lattimore’s backup.
Spurrier remembered Miles asking if he could come back. “And I said, ‘Sure, you can come back if you want to,’ ” he said.
Miles will have to pick his way through an Arkansas defense that’s allowed just 125 yards rushing a game, fifth in the SEC. However, the team will be without suspended linebacker Terrell Williams, arrested last weekend for driving while intoxicated.
Arkansas struggled at the start of the season after an offseason of upheaval centered on disgraced ex-coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks have improved the past month, winning three of four. They’ve won five of the past six games against South Carolina, including the last three.
“We went to South Carolina last time and got a big win. We were here last year and got a big win. So, they know that we’re going to come in and battle,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “We’re not laying down against these guys.”
Wilson leads the SEC in passing yards, something the Gamecocks looked particularly vulnerable to in their last outing when Tennessee’s Tyler Bray threw for 388 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-35 win.
It took defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s strip sack of Bray to stop the driving Vols from moving in front with less than two minutes left.
The Gamecocks, coming off a bye, have had more than a week to fix what went wrong against Tennessee. Clowney chalked up the poor showing to the loss of Lattimore, a stunningly gruesome injury to a team captain.
“I think a lot of people were down, not even thinking about the game” after Lattimore’s injury, Clowney said. “I think we’re going to be more focused this game.”
Miles plans to take the same approach he always has. Spurrier says Miles’ maturity has helped the younger players. Miles stays inside watching horror films and comedies instead of attending parties. He prefers jazz and R&B to rap and he’ll often go for a 5-mile run after games to clear his head.
“He’s a super Gamecock,” Spurrier said. “I think our fans and all the Gamecocks appreciate that he decided to stay for five years.”