October 14, 2012

LSU makes statement, tops South Carolina

A loss at Florida last week put most of these LSU football players in a new situation.

The Tigers hadn't been beaten in a regular-season game since 2010. LSU hadn't lost back-to-back games in four years. A defeat against No. 3 South Carolina would put the Tigers' chances of winning the Southeastern Conference Western Division title on shaky ground.

But, this LSU squad showed its mettle Saturday night.

A pass interception by Eric Reid set up the go-ahead points. Then, freshman Jeremy Hill ran 50 yards for what turned out to be the winning points in the Tigers' 23-21 victory.

"It was very important to win," senior center P.J. Lonergan said. "We had not had a regular-season loss in a while. We don't like the taste of losing. The only way to get that taste out of your mouth is to win."

There is no doubt LSU played like a desperate team Saturday. In addition, the Tigers received a huge boost from a loud and passionate home crowd. LSU showed it is not quite ready to give up its opportunity of successfully defending the SEC title.

"We were so into it," junior linebacker Kevin Minter said. "Tiger Stadium is our home. We can't lose here. There's a lot of tradition."

LSU coach Les Miles praised the efforts of the fans in the fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory.

"That was Death Valley," Miles said. "That was the place where opponents' dreams come to die. It was spectacular. It started early and it went late. It was with us the whole night. I recognize the advantage this team had in this stadium."

The Tigers controlled what occurred on the field for most of the night. But, some mistakes prevented LSU from having the lead entering the fourth quarter. A false start penalty forced the Tigers to kick a field goal rather than scoring from the 1-yard line in the first quarter.

A Zach Mettenberger pass interception which put the ball at LSU's 1 led to South Carolina's first touchdown. Drew Alleman missed a 32-yard field goal. Brad Wing shanked two punts. A 50-yard punt return by Ace Sanders set up a touchdown which put the Gamecocks on top 14-10.

Trailing by four points, the Tigers put together a 16-play, 75-yard drive. Mettenberger completed a 19-yard pass to Jarvis Landry to convert a second-and-13 situation. All of the other yards on the drive came on the ground. When Mettenberger overthrew Nic Jacobs on a fade route, Alleman kicked a field goal.

The next four series decided the outcome. On the third play after the ensuing kickoff, Reid intercepted a Connor Shaw pass and returned the ball 29 yards to South Carolina's 22. Once again, LSU couldn't get a touchdown, so Alleman knocked through a 22-yard field goal.

On the next Gamecocks possession, Shaw lost a yard, threw an incompletion and was sacked by Sam Montgomery. With a two-point lead, the Tigers took over at midfield. On the first play, Hill broke through for his 50-yard touchdown run to make it a two-possession game.

"The offensive line did a great job on the touchdown," said Hill, who rushed for 124 yards on 17 carries. "It was a gash play and I just had to make the safety miss. Once I did that, I had the touchdown."

South Carolina did tack on a touchdown to pull within two points. However, the Gamecocks' onsides kick attempt went out of bounds. When South Carolina got the ball back, just 35 seconds remained in the game. On the final play, Craig Loston picked off a pass deflected by Tharold Simon.

The reason for the Tigers victory can be summed up in two numbers. LSU's four tailbacks - Hill, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard - combined for 253 rushing yards. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore was limited to 35 yards.

"We rushed for some yards," Miles said. "We finally got some possession time. We were finally good on third downs. The defense went out there and stopped a very good South Carolina offense."

LSU ripped through the South Carolina defense with an offensive line which consisted of just two starters from the beginning of the year - left guard La'El Collins and Lonergan.

Left tackle Chris Faulk is out for the season with a knee injury. Right guard Josh Williford didn't play due to a concussion. Alex Hurst, switched from right tackle to left tackle two weeks ago, is not with the team due to personal issues.

Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk took over at left tackle, while Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander handled the right side of the offensive line. Besides the 250-plus yards on the ground, Mettenberger was sacked just one time.

"The old man (Dworaczyk) at left tackle had a helluva game," Mettenberger said. "The two young guys on the right side were very good. We executed a lot better and it showed on the scoreboard. That's what we should have been doing all year.

"We got back to LSU style of playing. We were running the ball. This has been a frustrating year for sure. Maybe this will get us going."

With the victory, LSU remains in control of its own destiny in the SEC West. Next week, the Tigers will again go on the road - visiting Texas A&M.

"We did some good things tonight that we can build off of," Lonergan said. "Maybe momentum will build now for the rest of the season."



 

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