NO. 3 SOUTH CAROLINA GOES DOWN IN DEATH VALLEY
When the 2012 University of South Carolina football schedule was released last December, most Gamecock fans circled this week’s matchup against defending SEC champion Louisiana State University as USC’s most likely loss of the season.
Of course when LSU lost All-American defensive back Tyrann Mathieu prior to the start of the season – and came out flat in their first two conference games of the year – Gamecock fans started to feel a big more confident about their chances. And it wasn’t just a sneaking suspicion that LSU might not be quite as good as their preseason No. 1 ranking, either – it was the emergence of a much more talented, more consistent USC team.
Led by a punishing defense, Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks had raced out to a 6-0 start – punctuated by a 35-7 evisceration of fifth-ranked Georgia last week. The only problem for Spurrier? The team that spanked the Bulldogs in the cozy confines of Williams Brice Stadium a week ago was nowhere to be found in Baton Rouge. And so No. 9 LSU (6-1, 2-1 SEC) used a breakthrough performance from freshman running back Jeremy Hill and a suffocating defensive effort to earn a 23-21 upset over No. 3 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC).
And as the time-honored football cliche goes, “the game was nowhere near as close as the score would indicate.” LSU amassed 406 yards of total offense compared to South Carolina’s 211 – but even those numbers don’t tell the tale.
Spurrier’s offense was positively anemic against the Tigers – while defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s vaunted unit hung tough, until finally breaking down in the fourth quarter after having been repeatedly sent back out onto the field as a result of offensive woes.
LSU ended the game with a whopping fourteen-minute time of possession advantage – a number which more capably demonstrates the degree to which they controlled this contest.
“That was Death Valley,” LSU head coach Les Miles declared after the game. “That was the place where opponents’ dreams come to die.”
Miles’ postgame comment was in reference to a quip offered by Spurrier earlier in the week – in which he pretended to be confused about whether LSU or Clemson had the real “Death Valley.”
A near-record crowd of 92,794 certainly shared their views on that subject with the Ol’ Ball Coach – who slipped to 0-3 against the Tigers during his tenure at USC.
“I realized why LSU was preseason No. 1. They can run the ball and stop the run,” Spurrier said. “That was the biggest difference in the game, probably.”
He’s right … LSU consistently shut down USC’s ground game and got steady pressure on quarterback Connor Shaw. Meanwhile the Gamecocks were gashed for 258 rushing yards – dozens of which came after contact thanks to sloppy tackling and LSU’s running backs driving the pile.
Despite being man-handled for most of the game, South Carolina still entered the fourth quarter with a 14-10 lead. However three disastrous drives late in the game (which resulted in a net loss of eight yards) set up three LSU scoring drives – including a 50-yard touchdown run from Hill that gave Miles’ team a 23-14 lead.
The Gamecocks scored a late touchdown to cut the lead to 23-21 – and were able to get the ball back from LSU with 40 seconds left – but a lack of timeouts and poor clock management doomed them (not unlike in the waning moments of last year’s loss to Auburn).
With this loss, South Carolina’s school record 10-game winning streak – which was also the longest current streak in the nation – is over. Meanwhile Shaw – who suffered through one of the worst performances of his career – found himself on the wrong end of the scoreboard for only the second time in fifteen games as USC’s starter. Shaw finished the game 19 of 34 for 177 yards – throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Shaw was sacked four times – twice by Greenwood, S.C. native Sam Montgomery.
Marcus Lattimore – who entered the 2012 season as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate – was completely shut down by the LSU defense, gaining a season-low 35 yards on 13 carries. Lattimore did score his 37th career touchdown, though, extending his school record.
Where does USC go from here? Well, a win next week against Florida and the Gamecocks will take a major step toward their second SEC East title in three years. Of course to do that they’ll have to remember where the keys to the offense are …
Pics: Laurie Giarratano