LSU Preview: This One Is Definitely Winnable

<img src=http://www.lsusports.net/images/tiger_logo.jpg width=131 height=109 align=left>If one could define a clear moment in which the 2002 Gamecock football team lost both its momentum and confidence, it was at the 2:07 mark of the third quarter as the Gamecocks sat shocked and in disbelief that it had just given up 25 points to LSU including 17 points in a period of three minutes and thirty five seconds. That was last year, this is now ...

LSU Tigers
October 18 - Williams Brice Stadium
Series Record: LSU Leads 13-2-1
Series Record Notes Of Interest:
While LSU holds a commanding lead in the series, the overall record does not tell the tale completely. Ten of the sixteen games played between these two schools have been played in Baton Rouge where the Bengals hold a decided advantage. In Baton Rouge, LSU has a 9-1 record verses the Gamecocks ... but that one loss to the Gamecocks came recently, 1994 - since USC joined the SEC. In Columbia, where five of the games have been played, the series record is still in LSU favor at 3-1-1 with the tie coming the last time LSU visited Williams-Brice in 1995. The neutral field game was played in 1987 in the Gator Bowl which LSU won.

If one could define a clear moment in which the 2002 Gamecock football team lost both its momentum and confidence, it was at the 2:07 mark of the third quarter as the Gamecocks sat shocked and in disbelief that it had just given up 25 points to LSU including 17 points in a period of three minutes and thirty five seconds. The loudest crowd in college football roared repeatedly as the Gamecocks found themselves completely incapable of moving the football against LSU's adjusted defense in the second half.

By the end of the night, the Tigers appeared to be a Top Ten team on their way to a second consecutive date in the SEC Championship game. The, following week, the Tigers began to be hit with a string of injuries that would result in them losing five of their last seven football games.

What once was a promising season for the Tigers also became disappointing to them as they were soundly beaten by Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

LSU is a team that Coach Nick Saban has on the brink of greatness, yet they never seem to reach that full potential. 2003 could be the season where it all comes together for the Tigers only if the Tigers make some basic corrections to their defensive strategy and stay healthy at certain key positions. Like the Gamecocks, the Tigers are a very young team who may be a year away from reaching their full potential. The similarities betweens the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams are nearly identical.

LSU Coaching

In nine years as a head football coach, Nick Saban has never suffered a losing season. Considering that he has coached all but one of those seasons in what are arguably the two best football conferences in the country, that is an impressive record. In five years at Michigan State, Saban took a hapless conference also ran and turned it into a program that, in his final season there, defeated Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue.

At LSU, Saban took over a team that struggled to a 2-9 record in 1999 and brought them to an SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl win over Illinois in only two years.

Jimbo Fisher enters his fourth season as the offensive coordinator at LSU where he will have the challenge of diversifying the LSU Offense in order to improve upon its lackluster 2002 late season performance. Fisher served as Offensive Coordinator at Cincinnati in 1999. Prior to that, he was a positions coach with Auburn and Samford.

In his first season as Defensive Coordinator for LSU, former Georgia defensive lineman Bill Muschamp coached a defense that led the SEC and was second in the nation in passing defense giving up only 152 yards per game. The Tigers were also third in the SEC and eighth in the nation in Total defense in 2002, giving up an average of 286 yards per game to opponents. Prior to being named Defensive coordinator, the 33-year-old Muschamp coached linebackers at LSU as well as serving as an assistant at Valdosta State, Eastern Kentucky, West Georgia and Jacksonville State.

In 2003, defense still remains the strength of this LSU football team. Through six games the Tigers are first in the SEC in rush defense and fifth in the SEC in pass defense

LSU Offense vs. Carolina Defense

Since Saban's arrival in Baton Rogue, LSU has lived and died as a result of its offensive success or lack thereof. Under Saban's leadership, the Tigers are 23-0 when they score 25 or more points and 3-13 when they score fewer than 25 points.

The strength of LSU's offense in 2002 was the extremely talented tailback duo of LaBrandon Toefield and Domanick Davis. Davis was a quadruple threat for the Tigers in 2002. He was a threat as a rusher, receiver, punt returner and kick off returner. Together, both Davis and Toefield combined for 1469 yards rushing, 171 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. Both Davis and Toefield are gone in 2003. Davis expended eligibility while Toefield opted for early entry into the NFL draft.

Both Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey stepped up early in the 2003 season to fill the shoes of the departed Toefield and Davis. Through six games Carey was eighth in the SEC with a rushing average of 4.7 yards per carry. His six touchdowns lead the Tigers. Addai was clearly the workhorse back carrying the ball for an average of 4.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Addai went down in game five with an MCL Injury that is expected to keep him out of action for the next three to four weeks. Last week against Florida, Carey also suffered an MCL injury that has left him questionable for the USC game.

Against USC, the bulk of the running game will largely fall to true Freshman Justin Vincent (5'11" 208) and former USC recruiting target true freshman Barrington Edwards (6'0" 213). Vincent has averaged 4.4 yards per game in limited backup action in 2003. Edwards has only run the ball 11 times for 53 yards including 22 of those yards in one run.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Steltz (5'9" 243) starts at fullback that the Tigers use exclusively as a blocking position. Neither Steltz nor back up Shawn Jordan have any carries thus far this season.

The quarterback position is one that the Tigers needed desperately to solidify going into the 2003 football season. Last year's starter, Matt Mauck (6'2" 217 Jr) threw for 742 yards with a 9-2 touchdown: interception ratio before being injured in the fifth game of the season against Florida. That was a game that many called the best of his career until the injury occurred.

Mauck, who is solidly entrenched in the starting position in 2003 season, reminds fans a bit of UT quarterback Casey Clausen. Once considered a scrambler, the 24-year-old junior spent the spring relearning the QB position as a classic pocket passer. The LSU staff believes that by keeping Mauck in the pocket, he is less likely to suffer the type of season ending injury that he suffered in 2002.

Mauck is fundamentally sound and consistent though not dazzling as a field general. Through five games, Mauck led the SEC in passing efficiency though his sub par effort against Florida caused him to fall to third in the league in that category. Despite having two of the best receivers in the league in Devery Henderson and Michael Clayton, Mauck's 10:5 touchdown to interception ratio is far from overwhelming.

Like South Carolina coaches do with Dondrial Pinkins, LSU coaches ask Mauck to put them in position to win games and not to lose them as a quarterback.

The biggest question for the Tigers offensively is "how do they get the football to their incredibly talented group of wide receivers?" Given the injuries at tailback, the solution to that question will become more and more critical for the Tigers as the season progresses if they wish to return to the SEC title game.

The receiving corps for the Tigers is led by is led by Michael Clayton (6'4" 194 Jr) who led the Tigers with 57 catches and 749 receiving yards in 2002. This year he has already caught 33 balls for 537 yards and 4 touchdowns. 2002 was a disappointing year attributed largely to Marcus Randall's inability to get him the ball in the second half of the season. On the opposite side, the Tigers will start Devery Henderson (6'0" 190 Sr) who caught 23 passes for 447 yards in 2002 and has already caught 27 passes for 411 yards in 2003. Last season, Clayton was clearly the possession receiver and Henderson was clearly the big play receiver. This year, both seemed to be used equally in both roles. Among the backups at wide receiver will be Skyler Green (5'9"179 So) who has blazing speed though his talent is quite raw. In the 2003 season, Green has caught 16 passes, three of which have been for touchdowns. However, Green is still learning the LSU offense and is prone to run incorrect or incomplete routes.

From top to bottom, the starting six members of the Tiger offensive line may be the best in the league. However, beyond the first team there is not a lot of SEC Game experience on the two deep. Going into the 2003 season, one of the perceived strengths for the Tigers is the offensive line. The Tigers only lose one full time OL starter from the 2002 team, RG Rob Sale who has expended his eligibility. The league's sportswriters obviously believe that the Tigers have talent on the line as they have named Center Ben Wilkerson (6'4" 300 Sr) to the first team pre-season All-SEC team and RG Stephen Peterman to the second team pre-season All-SEC Team. Wilkerson has been nominated for the Remington Trophy given to the nation's best center each year. Peterman was first team All SEC in 2002 and has been named a finalist for the Lombardi award and was named the country's best offensive lineman by the Sporting News.

Tight End Eric Edwards (6'5" 264 Sr) will start at tight end where he is a multiple threat as both a blocker and receiver with 4.7 speed. He will be backed up by the very capable David Jones (6'4" 252 So) who played in nine games in 2002.

Peterman allowed only one sack in over 800 plays in 2002. There was some discussion of moving Peterman to LG in 2003. However, the emergence of Nate Livings (6'3" 315 So) in the spring allowed the Tigers to leave Peterman at RG. Andrew Whitworth (6'7"325 So) starts at LT while Rodney Reed (6'4" 287 Sr) starts at RT.

Despite impressive size talent on the first team OL, through six games the Tigers rank tenth in the SEC in rushing offense averaging only 137.7 yards per game. Tiger fans are rightfully concerned about the potential for their running game in this season as well as future seasons. USC's rush defense is 6th in the conference giving up an average of 118.2 yards per game. Given the fact that the two starters appear to be out for the USC game, the greatest chance for the Tigers to win will come as a result of its ability to throw the ball against the stingy pass defense of the Gamecocks. The Tigers' pass offense is ranked fifth in the conference averaging 252 yards per game. The Gamecocks pass defense is ranked first in conference giving up 155 yards per game.

The place that the Tigers can clearly hurt the Gamecocks is on special teams. The Tigers rank first in the league in both kickoff and punt returns while the Gamecocks rank last in the league in kick off return coverage.

USC Offense vs. LSU Defense

The strength of the USC offense is clearly its ability to get the ball in the hands of Demetris Summers, Daccus Turman and Corey Boyd. LSU current ranks first in the SEC in run defense giving up only 2.1 yards per carry.

LSU's defense is a modified 2 gap that requires its linebackers to move first toward the line of scrimmage to cut off the run between the tackles, then separate and shed the lead blocker and work quickly to the outside to contain the outside run by mirroring the path of the ball carrier. Sound familiar? If it does it is because it is the basic defense that Tennessee employed against us three weeks ago.

Carolina did a great job of sealing off the Tennessee linebackers in Knoxville which led to Demetris Summers having a huge game against a rush defense that had given up very few yards prior to that game. . This week, the challenge will be greater given the fact that Travelle Wharton is doubtful for this game. Nasha'an Goddard and Jabari Levy will have to be at the top of their game to seal the LSU linebackers. If they are successful, Summers excellent field vision may allow him to have yet another big rushing performance against another quality conference opponent.

Quarterback Dondrial Pinkins will be operating under his usual marching orders: look for opportunities to score on a very good defense while not giving the game away with critical mistakes.

Coach Muschamp's defense prides itself on controlling the middle of the field. With massive defensive line, athletic linebackers and a cornerback playing free safety, the Tigers are clearly challenging opponents to beat them on the outside. That's a plus for Pinkins, because as both a runner and a passer, his strengths show themselves bet outside the tackles.

LSU will put four big men in the box. RT Chad Lavalais (6'3" 292 Sr) is simply one of the best interior linemen in the league having recorded 22 tackles (including five sacks), 2 broken up passes and 8 quarterback hurries in six games. LE Marcus Spears (6'4" 297 Jr) is a force to be reckoned with having recorded 18 tackles (including five for loss). The remainder of the interior line is manned by LT Bruce Wyatt (6'4" 273 Jr) and RE Marquise Hill (6'7" 295 Jr).

The Gamecocks clearly have a size advantage among its front five. The task of managing LSU's capable linebackers will fall to Levy, Goddard and Hart Turner. MLB Lionel Turner (6'2" 257 Jr) leads the Tigers with 34 tackles. He is to the LSU defense what Marcus Lawrence is to the USC defense. The weakside linebacker is the slightly undersized Adrian Mayes (6'1" 213) who will often drop back into pass coverage. Mayes shares playing time with Cameron Vaughn (6'4" 220 Sr) who is the Tigers second leading tackler. The strongside linebacker is Eric Alexander (6'3" 223 Sr) who will draw the task of covering the USC tailbacks coming out of the backfield as receivers.

In keeping with the strategy of protecting the middle of the field, Muschamp made the rather unconventional decision of moving back up cornerback Travis Daniels (6'1" 187 Jr) to FS ahead of senior Jack Hunt (6'1" 197 Sr) who would eventually end up as starting SS. Daniels has flourished with two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in the first six games at the position.

In only five starts last year, LCB Corey Webster recorded 7 interceptions and earned all SEC honors. This year, Webster has picked up where he left off with 3 interceptions and 13 pass breakups.

RCB Ronnie Prude (5'11" 176) is undersized to cover USC receivers Matt Thomas, Syvelle Newton and Troy Williamson in man coverage effectively. Those match ups may provide Carolina with the opportunity that it needs to throw the ball downfield to the outside

Summary

LSU's strength defensively is its ability to stop the run.
USC's strength offensively is its ability to run on opposing defenses.

LSU's strength offensively is its ability to throw the ball on opposing defenses. USC's strength on defense is its ability to defend against the pass.

LSU is first in the SEC in sacks.
USC is second in the league in defending against the sack.

LSU is first in the league in rushing defense.
USC is second in the league in rushing offense

All in all, this game has all the underpinnings of a very even match up. If there is one area in which LSU gains a clear advantage, it's the special teams return game. At the same time, USC has the clear home field advantage.

Keys to the Win

The difference between a win and a loss for the Gamecocks in Knoxville was a broken down punt blocking coverage in the first three minutes of the game. The Gamecocks can afford to make no critical mistakes that result in scores if they're going to win this game on Saturday night.

Florida offered an excellent defensive plan to counter Mauck's ability to create big yardage situations out of the play action last week by making sure that its defensive line and linebackers stayed home instead of biting on the play action. USC has to replicate this effort to win on Saturday.

Finally, I'm of the opinion that USC clearly has the ability to establish the run against LSU the same way it did against Tennessee. If USC is successful in doing this, LSU will have to draw the free safety and strong safety up to defend against the run thus leaving the deep middle of the field open for the big play.

Bottom Line

This one is winnable, folks.

USC 20
LSU 18

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LSU TIGERS at SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
7:45 p.m. (E) * Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) * Columbia
LIVE TELEVISION: ESPN2 (Dave Barnett, play-by-play; Bill Curry, analyst; Heather Cox, sideline reporter)

LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC)
Head Coach: Nick Saban (Kent State, 1973)
Overall/Yrs: 74-39-1 (.654) / 10th season
LSU/Yrs: 31-13 (.705) / 4th season
National Rankings: 10th - AP / 10th - USA Today/ESPN
Formations: Offense - Multiple * Defense - 4-3
Internet Web Address: www.lsusports.net

Key Players

QB Matt Mauck (6-2, 217, Jr., Jasper, Ind.)
Third in the SEC in passing efficiency (140.8 rating) ... Has completed 91-of-152 passes for 1190 yards with 10 TDs and 5 INTs this season ... Against Miss. State, completed 12-of-19 passes for 171 yards with a TD and INT ... Is 10-2 in his career as a starting QB at LSU.

WR Michael Clayton (6-4, 205, Jr., Baton Rouge, La.)
Third in the SEC in receptions (33) and second in receiving yards (537) ... Averaging 16.3 yards per catch, leads SEC (min. 25 catches) ... Against Western Illinois, caught 11 passes for 162 yards and a TD ... Has four TD grabs in 2003 ... Had more than 100 receiving yards in each of first three games ... Had 5 catches for 60 yards vs. Florida.

DB Corey Webster (6-0, 197, Sr., Vacherie, La.)
SEC Defensive Player of the Week against Georgia ... Had an interception and five pass deflections along with nine tackles ... Had two interceptions vs. Western Illinois along with three PBUs and two tackles ... Has 26 tackles, 3 INTs (2nd in SEC) an SEC-high 13 PBUs in 2003 ... Led SEC last season with seven INTs and was first-team All-SEC pick.

LB Lionel Turner (6-2, 255, Jr., Walker, La.)
Leads LSU with 34 total tackles (24 solos) ... Also has two tackles behind the line (-12), which includes one sack (-11) ... Has also forced two fumbles and an interception ... Had sack vs. Arizona.

TEAM NOTES

LSU leads the SEC in punt returns (15.4 avg.), kickoff returns (26.4 avg.) and second in net punting (40.7 avg.).

SOUTH CAROLINA (4-2, 1-2 SEC)
Head Coach: Lou Holtz (Kent State, 1959)
Overall/Yrs: 242-122-7 (.662) / 32nd season
USC/Yrs: 26-27 (.491) / 5th season
National Rankings: rv - AP
Formations: Offense - Multiple * Defense - Multiple
Internet Web Address: www.uscsports.com

Key Players

WR Troy Williamson (6-2, 200, So., Aiken, S.C.)
Has caught 18 passes for 254 yards and 2 TDs this season ... Caught five passes for 37 yards against Georgia ... Had four catches for 48 yards and a TD in the season opener against UL-Lafayette ... Had a school-record tying 99 yard TD reception against Virginia.

RB Demetris Summers (6-1, 200, Fr., Lexington, S.C.)
Fifth in the SEC in rushing with 453 yards on 80 carries and 3 TDs ... Sixth among all freshmen in Division I-A in rushing yards per game (75.5) ... Had team-best 158 yards against Tennessee and 161 yards and 3 TDs against UAB ... Had a 37-yard TD pass against Georgia and had a 20-yard reception against UAB ... Had 66 yards rushing last week vs. Kentucky.

LB Marcus Lawrence (6-3, 236, Jr., Aiken, S.C.)
Leads the Gamecocks in tackles with 48 (32 solos) ... Also leads the squad with six tackles behind the line (-18 yards) ... Also has a sack and a fumble recovery ... Had tackle for losses in first three games, including two in the season opener against UL-Lafayette.

DE Moe Thompson (6-3, 280, So., Goose Creek, S.C.)
Has 32 total tackles (22 solos) in 2003 ... Has registered two sacks (-13 yards) ... Both sacks came against Virginia ... 2002 Freshman All-America and SEC All-Freshman Team ... Logged 52 tackles last season, with 4.5 for losses and two sacks.

TEAM NOTES

Opponents are averaging 5.48 yards per pass attempt against South Carolina, which is best in the SEC.

SERIES/GAME NOTES
Record: LSU, 13-2-1 * Last: LSU, 38-14 (10/19/2002 at Baton Rouge)


In games played in Columbia, the Tigers lead, 3-1-1 ... The teams met last year after not meeting since 1995 ... The series is tied, 1-1-1, in last three meetings ... In the last game played in Columbia, the teams tied, 20-20, in 1995 ... The last Carolina win came in 1994 in Baton Rouge (USC, 18-17) ... LSU won 12 straight decisions in the series before the 1994 Carolina win ... In last season's game, LSU won 38-14 after trailing, 14-6 at halftime ... The Tigers' Michael Clayton caught five passes for 77 yards and teammate QB Marcus Randall, completed 12-of-23 passes for 183 yards and also ran for a TD ... LSU wide receivers coach Stan Hixon held the same position at South Carolina from 1989-92 ... USC's Lou Holtz is 0-2 all-time against LSU while the Tigers' Nick Saban is 1-0 against Carolina.

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