With Alabama (6-0, 3-0) sitting undefeated in the league, and with the likelihood of the Crimson Tide rolling into Baton Rouge on Nov. 8 without a blemish in conference play, that makes every conference game from here on out a must win for the Tigers.
There is a chance that Houston Nutt could pull off another monumental upset on the road this weekend when his Rebels travel to Tuscaloosa, but the odds are not in his favor.
The same goes for Phil Fulmer’s Volunteers when Alabama travels to Knoxville next weekend.
So, if LSU (4-1, 2-1) is going to control its own destiny and not have to pray for the Crimson Tide to trip up, then the Tigers must take care of business and it all starts on Saturday up in Columbia.
LSU hasn’t lost two games in a row since the 2002 campaign when the Tigers dropped the regular season finale to Arkansas, and then were beaten handily by Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
After LSU’s 51-21 loss at Florida, combined with South Carolina’s 24-17 comeback win at Kentucky, the Tigers can expect a hostile crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2) and their fans are going to be revved up with the defending national champs coming in wounded, but the Tigers have been in more hostile enemy territory this season with a trip to Auburn and the one to the Swamp.
The question is how will the Tigers, both players and coaches, respond to their worst loss under Les Miles, and the school’s worst loss since 1996?
The players said all of the right things during the week, but what kind of changes will be made to make up for the mistakes they made against Florida?
And what kind of changes will be made up in the booth so that Steve Spurrier does not create the same matchup problems that LSU has faced over the last two games?
Jarrett Lee (68-115-852-5, 8 TDs) has played well in spurts since taking over for Andrew Hatch in the second half against Auburn, but he’s also made several rookie errors.
Hatch gave the offense a little different look last week at Florida with running the option out of the Pistol formation, and look for him to get more and more snaps if Lee continues to lock onto his primary receiver, and doesn’t protect the football.
Out of the five interceptions Lee’s tossed, two have been returned for scores and all of his picks were ill-advised throws where the defender didn’t have to make a great play.
South Carolina is ranked second in the country in pass defense, only allowing 132 yards a game, and is third in total defense, yielding 240.86 yards a contest.
USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has his troops playing very well and the Gamecock defense has picked off seven passes and forced six fumbles. That’s a huge difference from the four turnovers LSU has forced and that is something that the Tigers must get better at.
LSU’s running game will need to show up this week after it was shut down completely by Florida, and the offensive line has something to prove. The Tigers are still third in the league at rushing at 181.2 yards a game, but with Charles Scott’s 35 yards against the Gators, he has dropped from first to third in the conference, averaging 114 yards a game.
Lee and Hatch need Scott (83-570-6) to come up big and the Tigers need to utilize Trindon Holliday more from the running back position. If Florida can use a small guy in the backfield like Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps then LSU can use Holliday in that same role.
Defensively, LSU has to do something about opposing offensive coordinators creating the matchup issues because it seems that lately it has been a little too easy.
The Tigers also have to stop missing assignments and play smarter, but much more aggressively.
Stephen Garcia is going to get the start on Saturday for the Gamecocks and the Tigers need to blitz and hit him, hard and often.
The defense is giving up 303 yards a game which is ninth in the SEC, and it is 10th in the league, giving up 22.4 points a game.
That isn’t the results that Les Miles is looking for in his defense and it’s not what LSU has grown accustomed to.
A Look at South Carolina’s Offense
Tommy Beecher (14-26-140-4) started the season opener, but Chris Smelley has gotten the last six starts for the Gamecocks at quarterback.
Smelley (108-180-1,276-9, 10 TDs) has had problems with throwing the ball to the other team, so he will give way to Stephen Garcia (23-35-300-1, 2 TDs), who will be making his first collegiate start.
The redshirt freshman earned the start after playing well against UAB and then leading the Gamecocks to last week’s road win in Lexington. He has some mobility and can hurt you with his arm and feet, but he can get rattled if pressured. That’s the key for LSU. The Tigers must pressure Garcia and not let him sit back there all day.
The running game is led by Mike Davis (87-381-1), but Garcia is second on the team with 109 yards and a score. LSU’s front four needs to get a better push this week and maintain their gap assignments. That may be tough to do with the uncertainty of Ricky Jean-Francois’ availability though.
LSU’s secondary and linebackers are going to be tested and there could potentially be some problems for the Tigers.
Jared Cook leads South Carolina from his tight end spot with 26 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown, but the Gamecocks have spread the ball around a lot. Fourteen different receivers have caught at least two passes and nine have made their way into the end zone.
Kenny McKinley (20-206-2), Moe Brown (21-334-1), and Jason Barnes (15-222-2) are the top three wide outs, but you have to factor Davis (16-137) in there as well.
When Spurrier needs to move the chains on third down look for him to turn to Cook and Davis, who will be matched up on linebackers most of the time.
Spurrier’s offensive line has been beaten and battered over the first seven games as the men up front have allowed 24 sacks.
There have been five different combinations of starters up front that Spurrier has tried and he will go with another one this week as Lemuel Jeanpierre will return to the lineup in place of Terrence Campbell at right guard.
South Carolina’s rushing offense is in the SEC’s cellar at 109 yards a game, which is right on par with what LSU is giving up in 108.2 yards.
A Look at South Carolina’s Defense
Statistically speaking, the secondary that LSU will have to deal with is one of the best in the country. But, the Gamecocks have faced only two teams with good quarterbacks in Ole Miss and Georgia.
Jevan Snead of Ole Miss threw for 243 yards against the Gamecocks, but Georgia’s Matt Stafford passed for only 146.
Regardless of the competition, the Gamecocks have a very good group of defensive backs in Emmanuel Cook (56 tackles), Captain Munnerlyn (21 tackles, 5 PBUs), Chris Culliver (21 tackles, 2 INTs), Stoney Woodson (10 tackles, 2 INTs), and Carlos Thomas (10 tackles, 2 INTs).
Anytime a defense is ranked second in the country in any category it is cause for some concern if you’re the opposing offensive coordinator. However, the secondary that LSU faced last week at Florida is faster and more physical.
Brandon LaFell (29-407-3) leads the SEC in receiving, but he needs a little more help and consistency from Demetrius Byrd (16-226-3).
South Carolina’s run defense gives up 108.9 yards a game, but it did a good job of containing one of the top running backs in the country in holding Knowshon Moreno to 79 yards on 20 carries.
Nathan Pepper (17 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) is a clog in the middle, but the guy LSU needs to make sure it blocks is linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
Brinkley has 32 tackles, including three for loss and a sack on the season. He’s good at filling the holes and is one of the better linebackers in the conference.
A Look at South Carolina’s Special Teams
It seems that every week in the SEC there is a dangerous return man that LSU must deal with and this week it is Captain Munnerlyn. He’s returned 14 punts and only averages 6.2 yards, but he’s been very close to breaking one on several occasions. He has broken a kickoff for a score with his only return going for 84 yards and a touchdown.
South Carolina has a decent punter in Spencer Laming (41.6 avg.) and a good kickoff guy in Ryan Succop. Fourteen of Succop’s 36 kickoffs have gone for a touchback and the opposition’s average starting field position is the 21 yard line, which is five yards better than where LSU’s opponents start.
The one area that Succop has struggled in is with his field goals. He’s a perfect 5-of-5 from the 29 yard line and in. However, from the 30 and out, he’s hitting only 50 percent at 7-of-14. His misses have been from 38, 39, 40, 42, 48, 50, and 51 yards out.
South Carolina is riding a four-game winning streak and a win over LSU would be huge for Spurrier and the Gamecocks. It would keep them alive in the hunt for the SEC Eastern Division title, and would give Spurrier revenge for last year’s loss in Baton Rouge.
The crowd is going to be electric and will pose problems for LSU’s signal callers. LSU can’t turn the ball over early or be as anemic on offense as it was last week in the early part of the game. The defense can’t give up the big play either because that crowd will come unglued if South Carolina jumps out early like the Gators did last week.
Out: RB-Brian Maddox (knee); RB-Taylor Rank (shoulder); DT-Marque Hall (foot); OL-Heath Batchelor (disciplinary)
Probable: TE-Jared Cook (foot); K-Ryan Succop (abdominal)
Doubtful: DT-Ricky Jean-Francois (groin)
Questionable: QB-Jordan Jefferson (shoulder)
Probable: TE-Richard Dickson (leg); DT-Charles Alexander (ankle); MLB-Darry Beckwith (knee)
This is not going to be easy and if LSU doesn’t go to Columbia prepared to play then the Tigers will tack on another loss and find themselves in a hole. LSU’s offensive line is much better than it showed last week and look for the Tigers to come out and pound the ball on South Carolina. LSU needs to be able to run the ball early with Charles Scott and get Jarrett Lee some confidence in the short passing game. LSU couldn’t find any sort of rhythm last week and that prevented Gary Crowton from being able to run a large part of the package he designed for Florida. This week we expect to see more of Trindon Holliday and the little speedster will find the endzone.
The defense has to play tough and smart, and put pressure on Stephen Garcia. That is a must, no question about it. South Carolina is probably going to force a couple of turnovers and the game will be close in the middle of the third quarter, but LSU is finally going to create a turnover that will open things up and give the offense a short field.
The Tigers get another interception late in the game and hold on for the win.
LSU 30, South Carolina 21