COLUMBIA — It didn’t have an asterisk beside it even before all this happened.
South Carolina wants to beat LSU because the Tigers are on the schedule, not because they won the national championship last season. The Gamecocks knew it wouldn’t be the same LSU team anyway, not after being ravaged by the NFL Draft, losing two of its first three games this year and self- imposing scholarship reductions after a booster-led recruiting snafu.
“We always try to go out there and make a statement, always try to go out there and win,” USC running back Deshaun Fenwick said. “Just the opportunity to play in Death Valley is going to be really exciting.”
The Gamecocks are still underdogs, but this game suddenly looks more winnable than it did a few weeks ago. USC (2-2) is on a two-game winning streak and just made Will Muschamp the first coach in Gamecock history to beat Auburn as an SEC member. This weekend he could become just the second to win at LSU.
Five things to watch as USC takes on LSU:
LSU quarterback Myles Brennan isn’t expected to play after tearing an abdominal muscle last week. True freshman T.J. Finley is expected to start, and true freshman Max Johnson is his backup.
That could play right into the hands of a USC defensive line that has played very well of late and features SEC sack leader J.J. Enagbare.
Yet no matter who’s throwing the ball, the Tigers have receivers who can catch it.
Another challenge for Horn
LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall could be just the tonic for a nervous rookie QB. Seven of his 21 catches this year have been for touchdowns.
Marshall will no doubt be covered by USC cornerback Jaycee Horn, who won National Defensive Player of the Week honors after a two-interception day against Auburn.
He shut down Auburn’s Seth Williams last week. Mimicking it against Marshall will move Horn from solid NFL Draft choice to can’t-miss first-rounder.
Speaking of receivers …
USC got the news it waited four weeks for on Wednesday: Transfer Jalen Brooks was cleared by the NCAA.
Brooks last played at Division II Wingate but USC raved about him in the preseason, repping him with the first team and crediting him as one of the fastest players on the roster. A secondary option behind Shi Smith has been sorely lacking the first four games, and Brooks is going to get the chance to be that guy.
USC quarterback Collin Hill has been steady in four starts and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He hasn’t had to be a star because his running game has mostly worked and his defense has made some big plays.
LSU is fifth in the league in rushing defense. LSU is second in the league in passing offense. Hill, whose passing yardage has decreased in every game this season, may not have so many bail-outs Saturday night.
Lessons from Les
With all of the ghosts in Tiger Stadium and so close to Halloween, specters of former coach Les Miles could be flying. The grass-eating, non-clock-managing national champion now serving time at Kansas could always be counted on to come up with a perfectly executed trick play on special teams.
Ed Orgeron hasn’t had to rely on tricks because last year’s team rode a dominating offense to a 15-0 season. But with so much going wrong this year, he could always look to what worked to get it right.
Even if it came from the guy before him.
LSU 31, South Carolina 24