Many felt LSU should have no problem with Florida two weekends ago. So the unexpected loss grabbed the attention of not only the Tigers but their fans heading into Columbia against a relatively unknown and dangerous opponent.
Tell the truth, before the South Carolina game Saturday, could you possibly name more than two players on the team? Probably not.
It didn't matter though, the Gamecocks possessed enough firepower and a storied old-school coach to cause enough problems for Nick Saban and Co. What could be worse than losing to Florida – losing two in a row, of course something Saban would never allow to happen. Saban, nor his players.
When I stated South Carolina was a lesser opponent, that could not be farther from the truth – or is it?
Sure the Gamecocks are a quality team, deserving of a nod as one of the better teams in the Southeastern Conference. However, it was totally obvious Lou Holtz's team is nowhere near in the same class as the Tigers. I am pretty sure South Carolina is not close to the level of a below average Florida team. The team speed between the Cocks and Gators cannot even be compared.
At any rate, was it that LSU was so much better than the Gamecocks on Saturday?
Are the Tigers a better team than the squad that drug itself off the Death Valley floor after a 19-7 loss to Florida?
No doubt! And they showed why Saturday.
Holtz preached early in the week how good teams always seem to play a perfect game against his Gamecocks. Georgia pounded a seemingly helpless USC team a week after the Bulldogs lost to LSU. Tennessee showed no mercy as well posting a near flawless effort.
Whether the Cocks are cursed or Holtz has E.S.P., but the Tigers were red hot when they took the field in Williams-Brice Stadium. Dominating the game from start to finish, the Tigers ground out a season-high 263 yards on the ground and soaked up nearly 42 of the games 60 minutes. LSU ran 84 plays in the game, a far cry from South Carolina's paltry 49.
The Tigers put together two drives of 90 or more yards, including a nine-minute, 21-play march which covered 97 yards.
Quarterback Matt Mauck rebounded from his worst collegiate game in the loss to Florida with a sparkling outing in which he completed 24-of-30 passes for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
And that was just o the offensive side of the ball.
The Tigers defense, which ranks 4th nationally against the run, drilled the Gamecock offense not allowing a rushing yard in the game. In all, the LSU defense surrendered just 254 total yards and accounted for the Tigers last touchdown of the game – a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jason LeDoux.
I can spit statistics at you all day, but they are all meant to say one thing – the Tigers are a top 10 quality team and their national rankings reflect what kind of team Saban has assembled.
Following the Florida game, Saban questioned his offense, the character and identity of his team and the heart with which they compete. If Saturday's game was a test and Saban was the professor, the Tigers passed with honors.
Not only did LSU re-establish dominance on both sides of the ball and find the consistency it has lacked on offense since the Arizona game, the Tigers faced adversity in the eye following last week's loss and beat it – albeit against one of the better (not great) teams in the SEC.
What this game also showed is the Tigers have evolved under Saban into a member of the upper-echelon in the SEC. Can you remember not so many years ago when the Tigers were considered one of those middle of the road teams in the league?
With the first true road test of the season in its rearview mirror, LSU returns to Tiger Stadium for step three of a treacherous yet exciting home slate. The 2003 schedule featured three huge home (four now with the emergence of Arkansas) including Georgia, Florida and now the Auburn Tigers.
LSU is 1-1 against the first two SEC powers to enter Death Valley this fall, Saban and his team now look to get win No. 2. It will not come easy, though, as Auburn is among the hottest teams in America.
Preseason prognosticators had the Tigers competing for the national title, but two early season losses erased all hopes of a national title. However, Auburn's sights remain set on what they feel is rightly theirs, the SEC title.
With four consecutive league wins including impressive road victories at Tennessee and Arkansas, the Tigers appear poised to do just that.
The only thing standing in their way is another group of Tigers and 92,000 crazed fans (finally) under the lights of Tiger Stadium. It should be a classic.