There was much fanfare in the Capital City as South Carolina had won four in a row and their highly touted freshman quarterback, Steven Garcia, was making his first start as a Gamecock.
On the flip side, the LSU Tigers (5-1, 3-1) were coming off a loss in The Swamp just a week earlier and were in need of a solid performance. The Tigers went into the season with what was billed as one of the country’s top defensive units, but after giving up 51 points to Florida a week earlier there was some questioning of whether the defense was overrated.
South Carolina (5-3, 2-3) built a 17-10 lead late in the first half, but LSU's defense dominated the Gamecocks in the second half and held Steve Spurrier’s club to only 42 yards of total offense in pulling off the big win on the road.
"No doubt this was a big win," Les Miles said. "In the first half, we were making some mistakes and shooting ourselves in the foot. I don't know if we played smart in the first half.”
A game that started slowly and was knotted at three with only a few minutes remaining in the first half saw three quick touchdowns by these two suddenly explosive offenses.
After LSU took a 10-3 lead on USC late in the second quarter, the Gamecocks were able to respond with two quick scores, one aided by a Jarrett Lee pick, and took a 17-10 lead into the locker room.
That, however, would be all the Gamecocks would muster on this night as the LSU defense returned to the field in the second half with a purpose.
“In the second half, the defense didn’t allow them to score,” said Miles. “Three turnovers…really, they could not run the football (and) they could not protect their passer, so we knew what our offense had to do to win it.”
Miles was spot on with his assessment of the game as the Tigers completely dominated the second half.
His offense used three backs to chop up South Carolina’s defense and maintain possession. The Tigers held onto the ball for 18:15 of the second half forcing the Gamecock defense to tire under their pressure.
Charles Scott (16-61-2) and Keiland Williams (15-72) rotated throughout the game keeping fresh backs on the field and confusing the USC defense. The Tigers also ran the two-quarterback system with Lee and Andrew Hatch.
Lee started and finished 16-of-26 through the air for 189 yards with an interception. Hatch, who was mostly used when the Tigers ran the ball, was 2-of-3 passing and threw the only touchdown pass of the game for the Tigers on a well designed play to tight end Richard Dickson.
The story of this game, however, was the Tiger defense.
They were able to hold the Gamecocks to only 43 yards in the second half. Thirty nine of those yards came on South Carolina’s opening drive of the third quarter that ended with a fumble when Garcia scrambled on the play and got popped by Chris Hawkins trying to pick up an extra couple of yards.
Perry Riley recovered the loose ball and the battle for field position began as the Tigers coaching staff did not panic. Their first two drives of the half resulted in a punt pinning USC deep in their own territory.
Eventually this would lead to the Hatch scoring toss to Dickson tying the game at 17 apiece. After the LSU defense forced another punt by the Gamecocks, the offense had its most impressive drive going 83 yards in 13 plays in just over four minutes to put the Tigers in front for good at 24-17.
On that drive, Lee was 3-of-3 for 55 yards, and Williams and Scott combined for 33 yards rushing with Scott scoring the game-winner on a 2-yard run with 4:16 left on the clock.
“We did the things we needed to do…period,” Miles said. “We converted on third downs, converted on short yardage and got it down to the goal line and scored. That’s what we’re supposed to do. It was the key drive of the game.”
The Tigers then goaded the inexperienced Garcia into making an errant throw that was picked off by Curtis Taylor. USC would never see the ball again.
LSU closed out the game inside the Gamecocks red zone by simply running out the clock.
It was a big win for the Tigers after they gave what they feel to be, less than their best effort just a week ago.
“I kind of felt that there was an edge, this team had a toughness they needed to vent,” said Miles speaking of his squad’s effort tonight.
He was especially pleased with how his defense performed in the second half and how the Tigers registered six sacks on the night.
“That defense had a lot of swagger,” Miles said. “The defense was awfully strong in the second half. If we play like that on offense, defense, and special teams…we’ll play (with) anybody in the country.”