SAPAKOFF COLUMN: No. 3 Gamecocks turn focus to SEC East title
BATON ROUGE, La. — Deaf Valley loudness blared from zany LSU fans Saturday night during the No. 9 Tigers’ 23-21 comeback victory over No. 3 South Carolina. Now comes a critical week of practice during which the noise Gamecock players hear booms between the earholes of their helmets.
If you’re wondering how an SEC title contender responds from a sudden thud, Florida Week is off to a good start.
“The bottom line, (LSU is) in the (SEC) West,” quarterback Connor Shaw said after the Gamecocks fell to 6-1. “We have a big game in the East (Saturday at Florida). If we want to get to Atlanta, we have to bounce back strong.”
With a win at The Swamp, the Gamecocks are in good shape for a trip to face Alabama in the SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome. All that’s off the table for South Carolina is a national championship and it’s still OK to hope.
“It was a game we had some chances,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “But they outplayed us.”
Could have been worse; LSU outgained South Carolina, 406 yards to 211.
Excellent execution USC and odd Les Miles play calls forced LSU to settle for three field goals after the Tigers moved the ball inside the 10.
Stopping the run
“We try to make sure that we raise our level in the red zone,” said South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. “They got down there too many times but I thought we did well when they were down there.”
Spurrier knew LSU’s defense was formidable, and that the team picked at SEC Media Days to win the conference title was desperate coming off last week’s 14-6 loss at Florida.
But Ward was miffed at the Tigers’ ability to run the ball for big gains. A patchwork LSU offensive line had its way as ballcarriers piled up 258 yards rushing.
“Stopping the run is my biggest concern,” Ward said. “It’s always my biggest concern. If they’re going to throw the ball 40 times we have to stop the run. Coming into every game, you have to stop the run.”
LSU stopped the run; the Gamecocks managed a measly 34 yards rushing (35 for Marcus Lattimore on 13 carries and a 1-yard loss for Shaw).
On to The Swamp
The Gamecocks had momentum for long stretches, and the stadium was unusually quiet.
Not only did Shaw find ways to chip away at LSU’s stout defense, he seemed to enjoy bouncing around along the offensive line to change play calls at the line of scrimmage. It happened a lot, including right before Lattimore broke two tackles for the 2-yard touchdown that gave South Carolina a 14-10 edge.
Even a good team can learn an awful lot playing in Tiger Stadium at night, the craziest scene in college football.
Clearly, foes will try to run on South Carolina.
They will try to copy LSU’s attempt to fend off South Carolina’s fierce front with screens, quick hitters to wideouts and Wildcat formations.
To counter the crossing patterns that wrecked Georgia and other South Carolina victims, LSU got more physical with Gamecock receivers.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.
Of course, not every team left on the schedule has LSU’s talent on defense.
But Florida does.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com or on Twitter @sapakoff.