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December 28, 2010ATLANTA -- Florida State has watched the film and seen the tape. The Seminoles know as much as anyone else does about South Carolina's offensive capabilities.
They know the three biggest obstacles toward claiming the prize that they want as much as USC does -- a 10th win of the season. They represent a dynamic chunk of the Gamecocks' game-breaking ability.
Stephen Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery have combined to score a clean 49 percent of the Gamecocks' 416 points this year and when their yardage totals are combined, it equals 9,834 yards. As a team, USC has 5,085 yards.
Obviously, that takes into account a lot of double-dipping (Garcia throwing to Jeffery, etc.), but the point is clear -- the trio is what makes USC go.
The No. 23 Seminoles know it, and know they'll have their hands full.
"Certain guys you recruit, you say, 'OK, he's a good player, we'll play against him,'" Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Other guys, 'Man, hope we don't have to play against that guy.' He went to South Carolina, I said, 'Good, I don't have to see him.'
"He didn't go to Clemson. Then, dadgum, he turns around and gets me in a bowl game. There's certain guys that are tough to play against and he's one of them."
Fisher was referring to Lattimore, consensus SEC Freshman of the Year and many organizations' choice for National Freshman of the Year. The Gamecocks make no mysteries about how important Lattimore is to their offense -- all opponents have to do is see how USC performed when Lattimore wasn't available or was held in check.
Although Garcia always has Jeffery at his disposal, being able to trust so completely in a running back who averaged 4.8 yards per carry removed a lot of pressure. Lattimore paced the ground game and Jeffery, with 1,387 receiving yards, accounted for nearly half of Garcia's passing totals.
Garcia had his best year yet under center and having two reliable targets to save him from having to be the constant playmaker immeasurably helped. The three's comfort with each other has pushed No. 19 USC (9-4) into a chance for one of its greatest heights.
The Seminoles (9-4) stand in the way.
"I've never played against a receiver that big," cornerback Xavier Rhodes said of Jeffery. "He's a physical guy, and he'll use his frame to push corners out of the way. I'm excited to match up with him. This game will help me a lot."
Fisher is familiar with Lattimore, having heavily recruited the freshmen when he was still an all-world tailback at Byrnes High School. When Lattimore made his decision, Fisher understood and wished him well (also thinking that if he wasn't going to come to FSU, at least he wouldn't have to see him on an ACC roster).
The Chick-fil-A matchup got created and Fisher began receiving messages from Lattimore's family, congratulating him on his season. Fisher replied in the same vein.
"They were glad they were seeing us, enjoyed the time we had together," Fisher said. "Marcus was a special young man. I was happy that Marcus was achieving what he was achieving."
Fisher was also aware of Garcia, although he didn't recruit him at Florida State. When Fisher came aboard, it was already January of 2007 and Garcia was on campus at USC. Plus, the Seminoles had an abundance of scholarship quarterbacks and didn't know where Garcia would fit, if they recruited him.
"When I was at LSU, we went down and saw him and visit him," Fisher said. "Really liked him, knew he was athletic, had a great arm and knew he would be a really good player."
Garcia has turned into one and hopes to keep it going for one more game this season. The Seminoles are hoping they can limit him and his two biggest weapons.
"We've got to play our most disciplined game of the season," defensive end Markus White said.
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