Fall Preview: South Carolina vs. LSU
South Carolina vs. LSU Overview
South Carolina will face no more talented team and no bigger challenge than in their week four match up with the LSU Tigers at the real Death Valley in Baton Rouge, LA. The LSU roster is a perfect example of what consistent top recruiting can do for a program, and you would be hard pressed to find a weakness in the depth chart constructed of almost all Top 10 ranked classes. LSU Head Coach Les Miles will field one of, if not the most talented teams in the country and has the LSU faithful dreaming of a second BCS Championship Title in the last five years. LSU will be the clear favorite to win the SEC West, and nothing short of an SEC Championship game bid in Atlanta will be considered a success.
South Carolina will be traveling to Baton Rouge, fresh off a home game tune up with South Carolina State. While South Carolina will face a huge task in attempting to beat LSU, it is important to remember Les Miles has still not proven that he is an elite coach in the SEC, while Spurrier has. Gamecock fans can hold on to the fact that South Carolina went into "The Swamp" unfazed last year and came within one point of beating the eventual National Champions on their home turf.
South Carolina Offensive Line vs. LSU Defensive Line
LSU features what many consider to be the top defensive line in the SEC, led by All-American senior defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. The 6'2", 299 pound Dorsey is one of the top returning defensive players in the country, and is joined by mammoth 289 pound defensive end Tyson Jackson to form one of the best defensive line combos in the country. Charles Alexander also returns at defensive tackle, but could lose his starting spot to sophomore Marlon Favorite. At the other defensive end spot, LSU will look to replace pass rush specialist Chase Pittman. The leading candidate for that job will be freshman All-American Ricky Jean-Francois, but his status is still up in the air, as he is waiting on an academic appeal. In spring practice, Rahim Allen and Tremaine Johnson shared time at that spot. The LSU defensive line is an example of where South Carolina hopes to be one day soon, as the Tigers are deep, talented and experienced.
The South Carolina offensive line will face its first huge test of the year when it lines up across from the LSU defensive front. It will be very important for USC's line to have a solid first three weeks of the season leading up to the LSU battle, as they will need the experience gained in the SEC road contest at Georgia and will have the chance to come together and gel quicker than the 2006 offensive line did. While last year's line was extremely solid late in the season, that grace period of time to come together is not a luxury the 2007 version can afford if South Carolina hopes to legitimately contend for its first ever SEC crown. While Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorenson are known commodities at tackle, it will be important for the Gamecocks to be stable at the three interior spots, as they will have their hands full attempting to slow down Dorsey, who many believe is the top returning defensive player in the conference.
South Carolina Running Backs vs. LSU Linebackers
This match up is one where there are very few question marks for either team, with South Carolina returning its top two rushers from last year in Cory Boyd and Mike Davis and LSU returning all three starting linebackers in Luke Sanders, Ali Highsmith, and Luke Sanders. Sanders is LSU's leading returning tackler, while Highsmith finds himself on preseason All-SEC lists. The stout trio of linebackers will be a strength of the defense but will be asked to do more in Bo Pelini's defensive scheme and will be working without the safety net of Laron Landry and Jessie Daniels behind them. Backup Jacob Cutrera will also push for significant playing time.
The battle here will be a match up of strength versus strength, and both the LSU linebackers and South Carolina running backs will have plays go in their favor. An area that could put the LSU linebackers at an advantage will be the defensive line playing in front of them. Tyson Jackson is like a third defensive tackle with his size, and while the Gamecocks will run away from his side, Dorsey will be a force in the middle. This should keep the South Carolina offensive linemen out of the second level and allow LSU's linebackers to roam free and play in space. USC will have to keep them off balance with play action passes and draw plays in order to keep them from getting too comfortable in run support.
LSU's Luke Sanders will anchor a strong linebacker corp for the Tigers this season.
South Carolina Wide Receivers vs. LSU Secondary
This match up will feature a talented, but inexperienced group of South Carolina receivers against a shut down set of returning corners in seniors Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson and two new starting safeties in Craig Steltz and Curtis Taylor. The young Gamecock receivers will need to grow up fast, and some playmakers will need emerge in order to get a consistent passing game going. Zenon and Jackson form one of the best tandems in the country and are pure lock down corners, so it will be important for South Carolina's third and fourth receivers, or whoever is playing in the slot, to make plays as Kenny McKinley and whoever emerges as the number two wide receiver will be in a tough battle to get open all night long. While Zenon and Jackson both have great height for cornerbacks, the wild card here could be if a tall receiver such as Jason Barnes could emerge as a jump ball threat and beat Zenon or Jackson that way.
With the strength of LSU's corners, look for the running backs and tight ends to play a big part in the passing game. One advantage South Carolina does have is Boyd and Davis are both excellent receiving threats out of the backfield, and Spurrier will undoubtedly use this to his advantage. The tight ends will need to have a productive day, and the emergence of a pass catching threat here in a Weslye Saunders or Nick Prochak could really help to loosen up the LSU defense and spread the field some.
Overall South Carolina Offense vs. LSU Defense
Blake Mitchell and the South Carolina offense will face a tough test when they attempt to move the ball on the talented, veteran LSU defense. The yards will be tough to come by, and it will be important for the South Carolina offense to limit turnovers, score touchdowns in the red zone, and also break a few big plays. With no real obvious weakness in the LSU defense, other than replacing two starting safeties, the Gamecock offense will have to stay very balanced and keep defensive coordinator Bo Pelini guessing, though he is one of the best in the business. As mentioned before, look for the running backs and tight ends to stay very involved in the passing game, with play action and draws in an attempt to keep the linebackers guessing. Also, don't be surprised to see a trick play or two called if the situation presents itself. Spurrier has shown a willingness to use them in the last couple of years and has displayed a knack for calling them at the exact right time. Also, wide receiver Kenny McKinley has a special skill set as a former high school quarterback and gives Spurrier more options as seen at times last year.
South Carolina Defensive Line vs. LSU Offensive Line
In another match up featuring possible strengths for both teams, the revamped Gamecock defensive line will battle a talented LSU offensive front learning the intricacies of new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and line coach Greg Studrawa's system. Ciron Black is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, with Herman Johnson and Brett Helms also returning. Will Arnold and Carnell Stewart round out the starting five.
The much improved South Carolina defensive line will look to get pressure on LSU quarterback Matt Flynn, and this should be another back and forth battle. Eric Norwood may be the best pure defensive lineman on the Gamecock defense, and he and veteran defensive tackle Marque Hall will need to have big days in the backfield to keep the strong stable of LSU running backs in check and Flynn uncomfortable. With stalwart Ciron Black on the left side, the best chance the Gamecocks' defensive line will have to penetrate the backfield will be on the right side that Stewart will man.
Senior quarterback Matt Flynn will take over the reigns in the Tigers' offense this fall.
South Carolina Linebackers vs. LSU Running backs
The LSU running backs and South Carolina linebackers both feature some big time star power, as USC boasts pre-season First Team All-SEC linebacker Jasper Brinkley, and LSU has a stable of talented backs, including Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy, Charles Scott, Alley Broussard, and versatile fullback Jacob Hester. With a talented and deep backfield at his disposal, Coach Miles will probably go with the hot hand at the time and give him the bulk of the carries, though Williams would have to be considered the leading candidate for that spot at this time. Despite the talent of the LSU running backs, Brinkley is the best middle linebacker in the SEC, and if given space will probably have a ton of tackles against the Tigers' pro style offense.
South Carolina Secondary VS LSU receivers
There is probably no more favorable match up for South Carolina than this one. While LSU returns stud go-to receiver Early Doucet, the Tigers struggled in the spring to find a viable second and third option with Brandon LaFell dropping too many passes and neither Chris or Jared Mitchell ready to be consistent targets in the passing game. Former five-star wide receiver Terrance Tolliver will have the opportunity to come in and take a starting spot if he impresses, while JUCO transfer Demetrius Byrd is also a possibility as a starter.
The Gamecock secondary features two returning cornerbacks in sophomore standout Captain Munnerlyn and one of the most improved players of the spring, Carlos Thomas. Brandon Isaac's return at free safety will pay huge dividends in pass coverage, and the rangy Isaac will more than likely be shaded to Doucet's side as defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix will focus on shutting down Doucet and making LSU's unproven receivers beat his defense.
Overall South Carolina Defense VS LSU Offense
At quarterback, LSU replaces first round pick JaMarcus Russell with fifth-year senior in Matt Flynn. Flynn will be a capable starter who won't make mistakes and will have the primary job of getting the ball into his playmakers' hands. LSU may, however, have depth issues as the status of Flynn's backup Ryan Perrilloux is still up in the air. Perrilloux was named the 2004 National Player of the Year by USA Today coming out of high school, but he has faced off-the-field problems after having his name mentioned in an FBI investigation of money counterfeiting and getting caught using his brothers I.D. at a casino. Even if Perrilloux is on the team, he will have missed out on hours of valuable learning time and development due to his indefinite suspension.
The LSU offense will feature some new looks under Crowton, but it will still be a pro-style offense with some spread mixed in as most all teams do today. Flynn will be asked to move around some on designed roll outs, so if durability comes into play, quarterback depth could become an issue.
With LSU's defense as stout as it will be, the South Carolina defense will also need to keep the game relatively low scoring in order to have a chance. In order to slow down the passing game, South Carolina will bracket its coverage to Early Doucet's side and double team him, leaving the other LSU receivers to try and make plays. Strong safety Emanuel Cook will probably be walked up to the line in run support, as they will attempt to limit the ground game and make Flynn and the LSU receivers try to beat them. With LSU's first focus on establishing the run and South Carolina's first priority being to stop the run, the winner of this very important match up could determine how well LSU can move the ball on the South Carolina defense.
All-SEC linebacker Jasper Brinkley and the Gamecock defense will hope to slow down LSU's vaunted rushing attack and force the Tigers to beat them through the air.
For LSU, Colt David is a solid kicker with a year of experience, while Trinton Holliday and Chevis Jackson can be electric in the return game. Fifth-year senior Patrick Fisher will replace Chris Jackson as the punter. South Carolina is hoping that the addition of freshman speedster Chris Culliver will bolster an abysmal return game from last year. Early returns on Culliver from summer drills say he could be electrifying with the ball in his hands, though he will have to prove it on the field first. A big special teams play could give the Gamecocks the chance they need to pull the upset in the hostile confines of Death Valley. South Carolina will hold the edge at kicker, as Ryan Succop has one of the strongest legs in the nation and could be the difference in a close ball game.
South Carolina's Keys to Victory
I. Stop the run
With LSU's run oriented pro-style system, a deep stable of running backs, and a lack of a number two and three receiver, the first priority for the South Carolina defense will be to stop the run. This will make the play action far less effective and force the LSU offense into doing things it won't be as comfortable doing. This will force Flynn and the LSU receivers to try and beat the Gamecocks through the air.
II. Limit Turnovers
LSU will be the more talented team on the field, so it will be important not to give them any additional help. South Carolina will need to protect the football and force LSU to beat them by earning every yard, rather than giving them easy points and field position.
III. Make the "Big play"
Whether it be in the return game, on offense, or on defense, South Carolina will need to have a few big plays in order to put points on the board and get the team's confidence up. With the game likely being low scoring, a big play or two could be the difference.
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