Defense not pleased with 4th quarter play

South Carolina probably wasn't into moral victories, but the Gamecocks should know that second-ranked LSU was not happy it allowed more points in the final quarter Saturday afternoon than it had in its previous three games combined.

"Our guys are playing hard and they're playing well, but we had some breakdowns and had some little things go wrong," LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said.


"We have a high, high standard around here. We're obviously happy that we won the football game, but did we play at our standard? Did we play our best game? Not quite. We did for about three-and-a-half quarters. We did pretty well. And then we got lackadaisical at the end. We made some mental errors."


It made the final score of 28-16 look better for USC, which got a 23-yard field goal from Ryan Succup with 7:44 left in the game, and then a late TD by Kenny McKinley with 1:41 remaining.


LSU previously had beaten Mississippi State 45-0, Virginia Tech 48-7 and Middle Tennessee 44-0. The Tigers hadn't allowed a score in more than five quarters until USC put LSU in a deficit for the first time all season when it took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.


"They were a great team and a great opponent," said LSU defensive lineman Kirston Pittman, whose six tackles included a sack and two for Gamecocks losses. "Coach (Steve) Spurrier came in with a great scheme."


For that matter, it was the first time LSU allowed a first-quarter TD at home since Alabama played here late last season.


"We hadn't played with any kind of deficit," LSU senior running back Jacob Hester said. "But we knew if we put 10 or 14 points on the board we knew our defense wouldn't give up too much more than that. We just went out there with the mentality to play our game and run our offense."


While LSU's offense was more or less held in check, its defense continued to dominate. USC came away with just 27 net rushing yards and only moved the ball late when reserve quarterback Chris Smelley got things going. It marked the fourth time in as many games that LSU forced its opponents starting QB to the bench. Smelley completed 12 of 26 second-half passes for 174 yards, the most against the Tigers this season.


"I thought the defense played really well," LSU coach Les Miles said, "especially early on."


Miles' assessment of his defense was lighter than Pelini's, especially considering that much of the game was played in the rain.


"The track that they were playing on and the things they accomplished today that every piece of our team, defense included, improved," Miles said. "Disappointed in the victory? Disappointed in beating South Carolina? If they are, something's wrong with them."


One guy who was thrilled was safety Danny McCray, a sophomore from Houston. On a defense that boasts perhaps the nation's best lineman in senior Glenn Dorsey, highly touted linebacker Ali Highsmith and safety Craig Steltz, little-known McCray emerged as the Tigers' leading tackler with nine solos, two assists and an acrobatic pass interception.


"Today I had a real good day," said McCray, who leads LSU with three sacks this season and comes in as a nickel back.


"I'm enjoying every moment of it," McCray said. "I don't take anything for granted."

"He's a great athlete," said LSU defensive lineman Kirston Pittman, who added six tackles. "Him stepping up so early in the season can mean a lot for this defense."


LSU plays at Tulane next Saturday in what most observers assume will be a lopsided rout, but then the Tigers entertain third-ranked Florida, go to Kentucky and come home for Auburn before getting a weekend off.


"I'm going to enjoy this. I'm going to go home and watch SportsCenter and enjoy that. Sunday morning after church I'll come in here and work hard," Miles said.


"And then Monday morning at about 6:45 our football team will arrive and we'll celebrate it for the last time and then put it to rest. And then we'll look forward to the rest of our season and our next opponent."

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