Fresh off a 51-21 throttling at the hands of Florida, the Tigers defense held the Gamecocks to 254 total yards of offense, its best outing against a BCS team this season. Using a variety of blitzes and a new scheme along the defensive line, LSU allowed just 42 yards in the second half, and just 39 yards rushing for the game.
“Two weeks ago wasn’t the performance that we wanted to establish for ourselves or the reputation that we wanted to have,” said senior linebacker Darry Beckwith. “We have a great tradition around here of playing great defense and that’s what we went out and did.”
As is often the case, pressure was the key to the defense’s success. LSU entered the South Carolina game with six sacks against BCS competition and proceeded to double that total, thanks largely to an Express Package, in which defensive ends Tremaine Johnson and Rahim Alem joined Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman for an all-defensive end front.
“[The package] was nothing we really practiced a lot or emphasized a lot,” Pittman said. “But during the game coach Lane told us that he may do it.”
It was easy to be impressed with the new wrinkle when Johnson recovered from a block, leaped over the protecting lineman, and sacked Stephen Garcia for a loss of six.
“[Johnson]’s been a backup for five years but at any time he could have been starting at any other university around the country,” Jackson said. “Just putting him in the game where he can play both defensive end and defensive tackle it allows us to have more athletes in the game and more speed.”
The pressure led to a much improved day from the Tigers’ young back seven. With a constant presence in the pocket LSU held the SEC’s second-best passing offense to 215 yards, with less than 50 of those coming in the second half. The Tigers made the necessary adjustments once again, brining in highly-touted prospects Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson as nickel and dime backs in crucial situations.
The secondary gave up two back-breaking plays through the air in the loss to the Gators, but with the extra help contained the major miscues to one drive. On the Gamecocks’ first touchdown drive, Garcia found Kenny McKinley and Wesley Saunders for 41 and 26 yards respectively, with Saunders rumbling into the end zone.
That was about it though. Following South Carolina’s first touchdown, most of Garcia’s significant completions came on scrambles and near-sacks.
“A lot of times we broke down our pass-rush lanes and those are the type of things that need to be corrected in practice,” Jackson said. “Just drilling it in this week and get prepared for the game on Saturday.”
If that weren’t enough, the defense helped turn a positive turnover margin for the first time since SEC play started. In addition to Coleman’s impressive single-handed strip, recovery and return, Perry Riley recovered a fumble and Taylor’s pick was the Tigers’ first since Chris Hawkin’s third quarter interception at Auburn.
“We were focused, especially after that loss, just taking it one game at a time and just doing what you normally do as far as preparation and everything like that,” Taylor said. “We know our abilities and as far as putting pressure on guys we know we can do a whole lot better job. And as far as them scoring 17 points, we still weren’t satisfied with that.”
There will be plenty of time for improvement in the rigorous SEC. LSU returns to Tiger Stadium for the first time in nearly a month this Saturday, but the Tigers will be facing the SEC’s No. 1 total offense and the BCS No. 7 team in the Georgia Bulldogs.
Asked if the defense was back to ‘LSU football,’ Taylor responded, “Oh yeah. Big time.”