Going into the 2012 season, South Carolina fans circled this weekend’s game as one of the toughest tests on the schedule.
Heading into Saturday, the Gamecock faithful are more confident than ever when their team ventures into Baton Rouge, one week after thrashing Georgia, 35-7.
After losing to Florida last week in a tough fought 14-6 affair, LSU will look to right the ship against an undefeated Gamecocks squad that recently climbed to No. 3 in the rankings.
South Carolina has struggled on the road this year, barely beating Vanderbilt and trailing Kentucky 17-7 at halftime.
While both teams are known for their defense, the other position groups will probably be what decides the final outcome.
Let’s take a look at which team has the edge in certain positions.
Last season we saw Connor Shaw take the starting job at South Carolina and run with it, quite literally (525 rushing yards, eight touchdowns in 2011).
This year has been no different.
Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the Gamecocks opener, Shaw has been a model of efficiency at the quarterback position.
Shaw has been stellar passing the ball the past three weeks (41-of-49, 559 yards, 6 TD), but the way he really hurts the defense is with his legs.
By successfully running the ball (4.4 yards per carry), Shaw has been able to keep opposing defenses off balance, which has helped benefit the entire offense.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger has been a serviceable passer, averaging nearly 200 passing yards per game, but has not quite lived up to the hype surrounding him heading into the season.
His accuracy has been mediocre as of late (53 completion percentage the past three weeks), and he does not bring the added dimension of a dual-threat attack under center.
Edge: South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore seems to be getting stronger with each week and each South Carolina victory.
The junior tailback has averaged over 100 yards per contest and accumulated seven of his nine rushing touchdowns against SEC opponents this season.
Lattimore gets most of his carries in the second half of games, as Steve Spurrier and his staff tend to lean heavily on the run to control tempo and put the game out of reach.
While everyone knows that No. 21 is getting the rock whenever the Gamecocks run the ball, LSU implements more of a committee approach.
Led by sophomore Kenny Hilliard (382 yards, 6 TD), the Tigers have three different players with over 200 yards rushing on the year. The Tigers are averaging almost 200 rushing yards a game as a team.
Hilliard, Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are all talented, punishing runners, and each would be a feature back for most other teams in the country.
While LSU has more talented depth in their backfield, they do not have a player the caliber of Marcus Lattimore.
This group is probably the most suspect for both teams.
South Carolina O-line coach Shawn Elliott has done a nice job rotating players around and game-planning in ways that play to the strengths of the offense.
The Gamecocks offense features a lot of QB rollouts and bootleg play-calling to avoid putting linemen in a position where they must hold a clean pocket—while also taking advantage of Connor Shaw’s mobility.
Last week, LSU’s offensive line was exposed against an aggressive Florida defensive line that got to Mettenberger four times on the day.
To make matters worse, several offensive linemen had to leave the game due to injury.
Neither team has excelled at protecting the quarterback (15 sacks allowed by LSU, 14 by SC), but the Gamecocks get the edge in this matchup due to multiple injuries along the Tigers’ front.
Edge: South Carolina
LSU’s defensive line is clearly one of the best in the nation.
Boasting a pair of the conference’s best defensive ends in Barkevious Mingo and South Carolina native Sam Montgomery, the Tigers’ front four is an anchor to the nation’s third-ranked overall defense.
Both Montgomery and Mingo have been named to the All-SEC team, and Montgomery made the All-American team after a stellar sophomore campaign that landed the Tigers in the 2012 National Championship.
South Carolina has its own set of larger than life defensive ends in Devin Taylor (6’8", 267 lbs) and Jadeveon Clowney (6’6", 257 lbs).
Thanks to the pressure created off the edge by these giants, South Carolina has accumulated the second most sacks in the entire country (25).
In this matchup, the Gamecocks get the edge after holding a talented Georgia offense to a mere seven points last week in dominating fashion.
Edge: South Carolina
While not many opposing ball-carriers have gotten past the line of scrimmage of either team, both the Gamecocks and Tigers and have more than capable tacklers waiting to pounce.
Shaq Wilson has had his best season as a Gamecock this year, with 30 total tackles and two interceptions.
South Carolina's starting linebackers have contributed 104-of-371 total tackles, including 8.5 tackles for a loss.
LSU has relied on their starting linebacker unit to contribute 102 of their 402 total tackles, including 12.5 tackles for a loss.
While South Carolina seems to have more depth, they don't have a tackler as efficient as LSU's Kevin Minter on the roster.
Saturday’s matchup will feature two of the best starting safeties in the SEC in South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger and LSU’s Eric Reid.
Reid was voted to the All-American team last year by Rivals.com and leads an LSU defensive backfield that has allowed less than 800 yards passing and come away with eight interceptions—two of which were returned for scores.
The Gamecocks secondary has also accumulated eight interceptions (one for a touchdown), but has allowed well over 1,000 yards to opposing aerial attacks this year.
The Tigers get the edge here based off statistics and the proven playmakers in their secondary.
Note: All above referenced stats come from cfbstats.com