The South Carolina Gamecocks could not have played a better game than they did last Saturday when they nearly blanked the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs 35-7 in front of the 85,000 plus fans at Williams Brice Stadium.
But that was last week.
This week the ante is again raised for the Gamecocks heading into the first of two Death Valley visits (@ Clemson 11/24) and when they take on the LSU Tigers—that will hardly be considered A Big Easy.
Here are five keys to a Gamecock victory versus the number nine Tigers.
1. Avoid The Slow Start
Two weeks ago in Lexington, the Gamecocks sputtered to only seven points in the first half against Kentucky and had everyone in Columbia holding their breath, as for the second time this season South Carolina struggled on the road in the SEC.
Of course the second half was a complete 180 with Marcus Lattimore rushing for over 100 yards and the Gamecock defense pitching a shutout, which capped South Carolina's blowout of the Wildcats, 38-17.
The Gamecocks can ill-afford to let the same thing happen against the Tigers in a stadium that can be as daunting to play at as Williams Brice can be to South Carolina. The last two road games have seen the Gamecocks let the opposition get the upper-hand early or keep it close when it shouldn't be.
With such a big win last week against Georgia, many expect South Carolina to be somewhat deflated or crack under the pressure of having the second-highest national ranking in school history The are firmly in the eye of the national championship storm.
If South Carolina can play a full 60 minutes at their max potential, they will silence many of their doubters and come away with another top 10 victory this season.
2. Connor Shaw Cannot Underthrow The Deep Ball
It is hard to argue with Connor Shaw's record as a starter (13-1). It's also hard to argue with his accuracy as a quarterback (75.7 percent) or his cunning ability as a rusher (4.4 yards per carry). It's even hard to argue with his resiliency after fighting off an early shoulder injury against Vanderbilt that slowed the beginning of his 2012 season.
But one thing that many have found room to argue with is Shaw's ability to throw the deep ball, and in the case of the game against Georgia, two underthrown balls in particular could have easily turned the tide of the game.
The bigger standout of the two was the second play of the Gamecocks' first drive, which saw Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for 42 yards, jump starting the South Carolina offensive attack. However, it was a ball that was actually underthrown and in the hands of safety Bacarri Rambo before being quickly wrestled away by Byrd to make the big play.
A turnover could have easily given the Bulldogs the upper-hand early.
Shaw is crazy efficient in the short-to-mid-range passing game, but LSU has made it a point to be opportunistic in the secondary, pulling down eight interceptions this season. A pick to the Tigers early could easily blow the roof off a Death Valley crowd that is already going to be raucous in the wake of LSU's loss to Florida.
Bottom line, Shaw got away with a couple against Georgia. He can't expect the same luck two weeks in a row. Deep ball accuracy has to improve.
3. Taking Advantage Of LSU Turnovers
As opportunistic as LSU can be in creating turnovers, they have also shown a knack for coughing up the rock with eight fumbles lost in 2012 thus far. And the South Carolina defense isn't cotton candy from the state fair.
In a game that could easily get deadlocked on offense, the Gamecocks' ability to create timely turnovers could not only take the LSU crowd out of the game but give Steve Spurrier some short field opportunities.
Any slack jawed yokel in a commentary booth or in front of a computer can give the timely analysis that the winner of the turnover margin will generally be the winner of the game .But honestly, on the road, against a team with slippery hands can give South Carolina the advantage it needs to score enough points to come out ahead.
4. Marcus Lattimore vs. LSU Defense
With the Gamecocks benefiting from a more complete quarterback in Connor Shaw this season, the load has been quite a bit less for Marcus Lattimore compared to 2010 and 2011.
Then again, recovering from major knee surgery can have that effect as well.
Nevertheless, the junior running back has posted 549 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012 and is still what defenses gameplan around against the South Carolina offense.
Last week against Georgia, Lattimore ran for 109 yards and wore the Bulldogs' defense down as the game ran on. Their opponents this week, LSU, have proven to be extra stout against the run, only giving up an average of 98 yards per game on the ground.
And yet the Gamecocks don't have to look further than the Tiger's loss last week against Florida, where Mike Gillislee ran for 146 yards in the Gators upset in Gainesville.
The proof is in the pudding.
LSU's numbers show they can stop the run, but what Florida was able to do with Gillislee gives the Gamcocks an excellent, recent blueprint to follow with their own All-American running back in Lattimore.
This is definitely one of the more intriguing matchups of the contest Saturday in Baton Rouge.
5. South Carolina's Defense Forcing Zach Mettenberger To Make Plays
The Gamecocks might be averaging 181 yards a game in 2012 on the ground, but their opponents in the Tigers are no stranger to success in the ground game either.
LSU's rushing has them accounting for 198 yards on the ground per average this season. That average will be put to the test as South Carolina's stingy defense has only averaged 83 yards of rushing offense for the opposition in 2012.
Obviously, things have changed for LSU since they posted those high marks earlier this season.
Case in point, last week's game against Florida when LSU's top back Kenny Hilliard was held to only 16 yards against Florida and team a total of 42 yards rushing.
It's not quite the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object that it presented on paper weeks ago before Alfred Blue injured his knee, but nevertheless, the Gamecocks ability to stifle the run as they did last week with Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will force LSU to put the ball in the hands of quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Mettenberger struggled against Florida completing only 11 of 25 passes for 158 yards as well as throwing a second quarter interception. The Gators overwhelmed Mettenberger and created five sacks in their 14-6 victory over LSU.
If the Gamecocks force the Tigers into 3rd and long situations, the "Rabbit Defense" could force similar results as they already have this season, averaging 4.16 sacks per game for the year.
The only question will be, in complete homage to John Updike, will the Gamecocks' defense be a case of Rabbit Redux or Rabbit At Rest when they travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday?
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