CFN Analysis - LSU Grinds The Gamecocks
The Tigers fought their way back into the national title chase.
E-mail Pete Fiutak
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Les Miles has a reputation for being a bit unpredictable and unconventional – the Mad Hatter – but he doesn't get nearly enough credit for handling his team really, really well.
Game management hasn't exactly been the bright spot on the Miles résumé over the course of his career, but that seems to be changing a bit. Against South Carolina, there were times to take a few chances and there were moments when it seemed like the offense was trying to set things up for a big fourth down try or something that might seem like a roll of the dice, but instead he went Romney on a few deep drives, took the easy point field goals, and relied on his team to do what it was supposed to.
It's a simple way to look at it. LSU was at home on a Saturday night having won 21 in a row on its turf. The defense was locked in and was bothering Connor Shaw on a consistent basis, Marcus Lattimore wasn't going anywhere, and his offensive line and running game seemed to start finding bigger holes as the game wore on. And sure enough, Jeremy Hill came through as the leader of the bevy of tough backs that all ran fresh in the rotation.
It might have been a totally different game and a totally different plan in Columbia or on a neutral field, but the Tigers played to their strengths and Miles outwitted and outmatched the Ball Coach simply by not doing anything out of the ordinary. Sometimes, being effective is good enough, and because of it, LSU is still in the national title chase.
By Richard Cirminiello
Hold off on putting dirt on top of LSU.
After piecing together three consecutive subpar efforts, including last week's loss to Florida in the Swamp, the Tigers came through with a huge effort against a terrific South Carolina squad. LSU still can't move the ball through the air with any consistency, and won't anytime soon, but it didn't cost the team in its quest to remain viable in the hunt for an SEC and BCS National Championship. The Tigers used an old formula for success, a familiar formula throughout the league, pounding away at the Gamecocks on offense, while hemming them in on D. You had to know that LSU was winning the battle of wills when its bruising, precocious RB Jeremy Hill was a factor all evening, but the far more heralded Marcus Lattimore was not. The Tigers controlled both lines of scrimmage, a particular triumph for a reshuffled O-line that's been hampered with injuries throughout the course of the 2012 season.
LSU controls its own destiny for Atlanta, and possibly even Miami. So, too, for that matter does South Carolina, which put up a valiant effort in one of the toughest venues in the sport. Neither one-loss program has any margin for error remaining, but both aren't scratching any goals off the to-do list either as Week 7 comes to a close.
Somewhere in Athens, Georgia head coach Mark Richt and his Bulldogs were breathing a sigh of relief. Tonight's Gamecocks loss doesn't change what happened in Columbia last Saturday night, but it does mean that the dream of winning the league's East Division just became a whole lot more attainable thanks to the toughness and physicality of LSU.
By Russ Mitchell
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The Tigers have still yet to lose back to back games in four years.
South Carolina vaunted defensive line had been leading the charge for this 2012 team. However, Saturday night in Death Valley it surrendered 406 total yards to an average LSU Tigers offense. Most notable was how LSU ran at will for 258 yards behind a patchwork offensive line that featured only two starters from week one – banged up senior center P.J. Lonergan and sophomore LG La'el Collins.
LSU may have won, but it once again struggled in the red zone, having to settle for three field goals inside the Gamecocks' six yard line – plus a missed attempt from the 16. The Gamecocks were fortunate that this game was as close as it was late in the fourth quarter.
One week after LSU's defense was worn down by a physical Gators' offensive line and its own inept offensive production, it made amends at the expense of the Gamecocks. SC's first two touchdowns came on short fields provided by an interception return to the LSU 1 and a punt return to midfield. Otherwise, LSU's defense was stout, limiting the Gamecocks to 211 total yards (roughly half their 2012 average), sacking quarterback Connor Shaw four times and constantly harassing him into a frazzled sub-par performance, and limiting tailback Marcus Lattimore to just 35 yards on 13 carries.
But it was even worse than those final Gamecocks' numbers make it appear. SC's 11 play, 77 yard touchdown drive with under five minutes to play came against an LSU team up by two possessions and playing a soft, prevent defense. Additionally, SC's final three throws with 0:38 seconds left were uncovered and superfluous.
If you factor for these, you can better understand the frustration that was Carolina's evening: 137 total yards, a lopsided time of possession margin, with Shaw's line a hardly impressive 10/22 for 96 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
On the whole, it was a solid performance by an above average LSU's defense with its back against the wall...playing a Carolina offense whose reputation appears to have been overinflated by some average to poor defenses.
By Phil Harrison
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Ho-hum. Another top-ten team bites the dust. The South Carolina Gamecocks came out wearing camouflaged pants, but in the end it was the offense for the ‘Cocks that couldn't be recognized.
All year, Steve Spurrier has looked to run the ball first with Marcus Lattimore, and then offered balance on the menu by mixing in the efficient passing threat from Connor Shaw (along with some gritty scrambles). On this night however, the running game couldn't get on track because of a tough LSU defensive-line in combination with the coaching staff not sticking to its guns. In the end, Shaw tried to do too much to make up for the pedestrian running attack and made one too many mistakes (or two or three).
Of course the crowd also had something to do with the theater on this football canvas.
There are many settings I'd like to experience in college football, and going to a night game in Death Valley would be right at the top of the list. USC is a very good football team, but it's going to be a tall order for any team to waltz into Baton Rouge at night and come away without claw marks down its back. The team playing in that stadium is usually problem numero uno, but the atmosphere just adds to the uphill battle teams face.
It was a mountain climb for the ‘ole ball coach tonight.
But all is not lost for either team as both still have just one loss. The way things have gone in the SEC the last few years, if either LSU or South Carolina can still win out, there's a better than average chance that a BCS Championship game appearance will be in the offing. That is, of course, if Alabama can be reckoned with down the road.
So congrats to the Bayou Tigers, and a big ‘ole hang with ‘em for the Gamecocks who'll get a huge shot at redemption next week against a familiar foe in Gainesville.
By Matt Zemek
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Connor Shaw had not thrown an interception in 60 pass attempts. He had not thrown an interception in the SEC portion of South Carolina's 2012 season. The main reason why South Carolina took a 14-13 lead into the final 10 minutes of regulation on Saturday night against LSU was that Shaw did not commit the proverbial "one big mistake," while his counterpart, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, did. It was Mettenberger's interception that, when returned to the Bayou Bengal one-yard line, led to a cheap South Carolina touchdown that gave the Gamecocks a 7-3 lead without benefit of any substantial offensive effort. As long as Shaw could remain turnover-free and make a few more available pass plays in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, South Carolina could have gotten out of Baton Rouge with a victory.
You know what happened next.
No, this wasn't quite a Stephen Garcia-style gaffe. Garcia couldn't even run South Carolina's offense for much of 2011. He routinely showed a low football IQ and made fundamentally poor decisions. Shaw has been a generally intelligent player who, in concert with his offensive line, made South Carolina's offense run more smoothly. The Gamecocks are no longer the picture of chaos they were for the duration of Garcia's (wayward) tenure as South Carolina's starting quarterback. Shaw lent more form and function to Steve Spurrier's adjusted, revised offensive framework. He had been (and still is) the best quarterback Spurrier has coached in Columbia… not in terms of raw talent, but in terms of executing a plan.
Yet, Shaw cracked. He cracked not in terms of his decision-making process, but in terms of a throw. His badly air-mailed toss that landed in the hands of LSU's Eric Reid gave LSU the final forward push it needed. Shaw almost handle the pressure of Tiger Stadium with perfect composure.
That small but substantial difference between a mistake-free game and that "one big sli-up" is what separates huge victories from close losses. Shaw should not feel as though he let his teammates down. He just needs to learn from this experience and make sure that he'll handle the next fourth quarter with more steadiness.
By Terry Johnson
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Much like the famous scene in Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, LSU kept screaming out, "I'm not dead", despite the fact that others thought they had died.
Unlike the unfortunate man in the movie that died before it was his time, the Bayou Bengals proved to the entire college football world that they're very much alive and in the running for the national championship this season.
Don't let the final score fool you: LSU dominated this contest. The Tiger front seven controlled the line of scrimmage from the opening whistle, holding the Gamecocks to just 31 yards on 25 carries. More impressively, LSU terrorized Connor Shaw all night long, sacking him four times, and forcing him to throw the ball away on several other occasions.
Even though the defense gets the game ball, the offense had its best outing in conference play this year. While Mettenberger did miss a few throws, the Tigers had no trouble moving the ball thanks its running game, which found a rising star in Jeremy Hill.
Despite both units firing on all cylinders, LSU still has an uphill climb to win the SEC West. The Tigers next three opponents have a combined record of 17-1, and either rank at the top of the conference in total offense (Texas A&M) or near the top in total defense (Alabama and Mississippi State).
While winning all three of those games is definitely a tall task, don't bet against the Bayou Bengals, who are clearly at their best when their backs are to the wall.
By Bart Doan
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Oh what a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, one team was left for dead, and the other was dancing to dreams of a national championship shot.
One week later, the team left for dead had 23, the team chasing that elusive title had 21. LSU not only saved their season, they might have saved their morale today in the second half. They'd looked morose in slogging out less than sexy wins over Towson and Idaho before looking completely flaccid against Florida en route to a crushing loss.
But trailing 14-13, an interception turned FG and a 50 yard, one run, one play touchdown drive later from Jeremy Hill, and the narrative on LSU had changed. Their trademark defense harassed Connor Shaw into two picks and under 200 yards passing all night. And the smug jokes about LSU players not being able to handle the Florida heat or complaining about holding calls will probably be shelved for the time being.
All in all, it's pretty easy to make games out to be more than they are. It sells articles. But to say this one was a true season saver for a train that was teetering a bit off the tracks really isn't hyperbole. South Carolina will get a chance to right their woes in suddenly the year's biggest SEC game against Florida. A crushing blow for sure, but hardly the end of their title dreams. Ditto for LSU. What will the story be next week, you've got to shake your head and wonder?