South Carolina vs. LSU: 10 Things We Learned in the Tigers' 23-21 Victory
This game was a thousand times better, and was closer to what the 'Game of the Century' should have been last year, as the No. 9 ranked LSU Tigers defeated the No. 3 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks 23-21 in Baton Rouge Saturday, making the race for the SEC a little tighter for both teams.
Head coach Les Miles continues to remain mighty at night, while South Carolina can't overcome the pressure and environment of Baton Rouge.
So heading into next week, what are some things we can take away from the Tigers' victory over the Gamecocks?
The Mad Hatter Remains Strong at Night
Head LSU coach Les Miles has an impressive winning streak, and excels especially at winning at night. Putting him in his home stadium at Baton Rouge doesn't help matters for opponents.
This showed during the course of the game when the Tigers trailed by as many as four points; when South Carolina threatened to score, the defense came up big with stops.
Miles, known as "the Mad Hatter," continues to only build upon his impressive resume at night. The best times to beat LSU will be in broad daylight.
LSU Rushing Attack Is Pretty Strong
One thing that people didn't count on was LSU's rushing attack to have the effect that it had on South Carolina's defensive line, which was worn down by the consistent rotation of LSU's running back corps.
That squad compiled 258 total rushing yards, with Jeremy Hill leading the group with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Hill was complemented by Spencer Ware, who added 55 rushing yards; Michael Ford, who added 41 yards; and Kenny Hilliard, who added 33 rushing yards.
LSU Put Itself Back into National Championship Contention
Thanks to their win over South Carolina, the Tigers have placed themselves back into national championship contention, which will make winning the rest of their games a priority—especially their matchup against Alabama, which usually determines the winner of the SEC West Division.
But while they have the defense to get there, it will be up to the play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger to help that defense get there.
Can LSU Trust Mettenberger to Guide Them to the Top? Don't Think so
As good as the LSU running attack was, this game was not won on the arm of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who threw a costly interception early that set up South Carolina's first touchdown.
He only went 12-of-25 for 148 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. That kind of play won't sustain LSU in the long run, and its offense, especially the passing game, can't be completely trusted as a result of Mettenberger's inconsistencies.
'Stop South Carolina' Blueprint Was Revealed
One of the biggest parts of LSU's victory was the play of its defense, which effectively took Connor Shaw out of the running game and forced him to become a passer, while also containing Marcus Lattimore. Shaw had minus-one rushing yards, while Lattimore was held to 35 rushing yards and a touchdown.
LSU effectively took away the zone read option, consistently clogging the the interior and keeping Shaw contained by putting a spy on him and keeping Shaw under constant pressure.
With that, Shaw failed to become a competent pocket passer, going 19-of-34 for 177 yards and two touchdowns along with two interceptions.
South Carolina's Defensive Line Is Susceptible to the Run
South Carolina's talented defensive line made no progress at all against the run in this game, and got pushed around by LSU's offensive line all game long.
As talented as Gamecock defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is, he has not been stout against the run the entire season, continuously overruns plays on a regular basis and still has plenty of work to do to become more than a pass-rushing defensive end and become a more complete player.
Down the road, watch for teams to probably try running the ball a little bit more when faced with this Gamecock defensive line.
Connor Shaw Is Not a Polished Passer
When LSU took away the running game and forced Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw to stay in the pocket, he was unable to step up to the challenge and effectively operate from the pocket. The result was in LSU's favor, as South Carolina did not make any explosive plays in the passing game; it was a big factor in their defeat.
South Carolina Offense Devoid of Big Threats in Passing Game
Despite South Carolina's strength in the running game, tonight showed that when it is not working, it has no reliable targets to open up the passing game.
The loss of a tall target like Alshon Jeffery hurt their deep passing game, as all of their receivers are under 6'0", and they have no tall targets to go up and get the ball on those special deep passes.
It's something that was noticed on several deep passes, where the lack of a tall target resulted in a lack of consistent downfield passing.
LSU Defensive Line More Complete Than SC Defensive Line
Both of these teams have talented defensive lines, there's no mistake about that. But when it comes to which line is more complete in all aspects, LSU is the better of the two, hands down.
LSU showed better pad level and overall discipline in stopping the run and taking away the zone read while also showing better discipline when rushing the passer. South Carolina has a great pass-rushing defensive line, but until they become more disciplined in stopping the run, they can expect more teams to have success running against them.
LSU Has the Defense of a National Championship Contender
While they may have questions on offense, there is now no doubt that LSU still has the defense to make it back to the National Championship. Effectively shutting down what is unarguably the best running back in the SEC in Marcus Lattimore and a mobile running threat quarterback like Connor Shaw is a big accomplishment.
LSU held South Carolina to 211 total yards on offense, with only 34 rushing yards and 177 passing yards. The Tigers' biggest obstacle to reclaiming the SEC West and returning to the title game will be their matchup with Alabama and winning out the rest of their games.
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