|Jeremy Hill breaks out with a huge game vs. South Carolina. (US Presswire)|
LSU WON. The Tigers once again looked the Tigers they were expected to be this season: overwhelming on the ground, relentless on the defensive front, airtight in coverage. Unfortunately for the LSU faithful, Zach Mettenberger often looked like the quarterback many outside Baton Rouge expected him to be, throwing a critical interception, struggling in the red zone, and generally being the simplest explanation of how a team with a 407-206 yardage advantage, 2-1 win in the turnover battle, and 11-of-19 mark on third-down conversions needed to intercept a last-second heave to seal the win. After the tribulations of the past few weeks, though, there's no doubt that Les Miles -- and Mettenberger, and the LSU faithful -- will take a win like that one in an atmosphere like that one no matter what the particulars.
WHY LSU WON. Neither quarterback covered himself in glory -- after turning himself into one of college football's hottest signal-callers at home, Connor Shaw once again cooled off on the road, throwing for only 5.2 yards an attempt and rushing for minus-one yards -- which meant that the game was inevitably going to come down to which running game could wear down the other. The Gamecocks might have had Marcus Lattimore (who had multiple runs on which mere mortals would have been stopped for losses go for gains, and one for a touchdown) but the Tigers had the far superior offensive line, despite a recent spate of injuries. It turned out the Tigers also had the night's surprise breakout star: freshman tailback Jeremy Hill, who flashed a stunning blend of power and speed to finish with 124 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries.
The second of those touchdowns summed up the night for both LSU and the Gamecocks--Hill broke through a sizable gap in the fading Gamecock defensive line, shrugged off a couple of less-than-convincing tackle attempts, and dashed for a 50-yard fourth-quarter score that seemed to have the game locked up. For all of Lattimore's power, he never had that kind of hole, and the Gamecocks never got that kind of explosiveness in either facet of the offense. And in the end, without that explosiveness, the Gamecocks didn't have enough offense, period.
WHEN LSU WON. Down 23-14 with less than two minutes to play, Shaw did have one moment of brilliance, a laser-guided throw on 4th-and-13 deep in LSU territory that set the Gamecocks up first-and-goal at the 1. That led to a touchdown on the next play, and the Gamecocks were one onsides kick away from having a real shot at the miracle win. Butthe kick flew out-of-bounds, and by the time Shaw got another chance, there wasn't time for anything more than desperation.
WHAT LSU WON. Oh, just a continued presence in the polls' top 10; a dark horse's outside shot at the national championship; the right to still control their own destiny in the SEC West; a return to the ranks of the SEC's elite, alongside the Tide, Gators, and Gamecocks; and the not-so-gentle reminder that Tiger Stadium is one of the premier night-game venues in all of college football (and that might be understating things). Not bad for a single evening's work.
WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA LOST. Disappointing as it might have been, the loss Saturday wasn't a disaster for the Gamecocks--they still control their own destiny in the East. But it will make climbing back into the national championship conversation extremely difficult, and it erases all margin for error concerning next week's mega-tilt with Gators. Lose that one, and making up a two-game deficit and a tiebreaker will undoubtedly be too tall a task in the SEC standings.