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October 14, 2012

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: LSU



NO. 9 LSU 23, NO. 3 SOUTH CAROLINA 21

THE GOOD

NOTHING IS (CENSORED) HERE, DUDE: Sorry for the parenthetical, but we do try to keep it somewhat clean on here (It's from "The Big Lebowski," if you're wondering). Yes, it would have been nice if USC could have won and been that much closer to the SEC East championship, but as Steve Spurrier said, the Gamecocks were going to have to go to Gainesville and beat Florida to win the East anyway. Now, they just can't lose after that - in two home games, against a struggling Tennessee team and against an Arkansas team that had to send all of its bedsheets to the laundry before the halfway point (but has played well in back-to-back games). There was nothing lost in the big picture on Saturday - if USC wins its next three games, it will be in the SEC Championship Game. If it wins out for the regular season, it can go to Atlanta knowing that a win there will most likely put it in the BCS National Championship Game. Perhaps it's good that USC was socked in the mouth and lost a game - it removes much of the national hype, it shows the Gamecocks that they're going to have to diversify to win, and it also shows them that as badly as they played on Saturday, they won't face another defense like that for the rest of the regular season. As for those of you who dreamed of a perfect year - USC has now lost a game for the 118th time in 119 seasons. Outside of that perfect 3-0 in 1907, it's expected.

FOR NAUGHT, BUT NICE: USC came out throwing, utilizing a four-wide set on its first snap and screening to Damiere Byrd. The pass was mostly shut down after that, but it was nice to see Spurrier on the sideline, after another failed rushing attempt, put his hands on his thighs and, as if there was a thought bubble above his head, reading, "Alright, then. We'll just pass." He didn't try to stubbornly keep leaning on Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw when he knew damn well that it wasn't going to work. And the passing worked just enough - until that one throw.

DON'T QUESTION: Spurrier showed that he could gamble and win a couple of times. When USC was trying to score and Lattimore was stuffed for a loss on first down, everybody in Tiger Stadium expected him to give the ball to Lattimore again. That would be the after-effect of being belted in the face with a 2x4 in back-to-back weeks when not giving the ball to Lattimore at the goal line. Instead, Spurrier called a timeout, quick-snapped and Shaw perfectly executed a roll-out, where Ace Sanders had already shed his man. Shaw threw ahead of him, Sanders ran into it, touchdown. Then there were the frantic final minutes, where USC faced fourth-and-a-mile and needed two scores. Instead of kicking then, Spurrier went for it - and Shaw threw a bullet that Jerell Adams leaped and caught at the goal line.

NO ONE COMES IN WITHOUT AN INVITE: Yes, USC broke eventually, but its red-zone defense again played fantastically. LSU had five possessions within USC's 20-yard-line and scored one touchdown. The rest were field-goal tries, one of which was hooked. Without that, the game would have been a drubbing, as the red zone was the one place where USC's defense looked like itself.

SENIOR LEADERSHIP: Justice Cunningham played a marvelous game, showing off a new piece of his repertoire with a leaping grab on the sideline, between two defenders. If USC's offense continues to struggle, his role in the offense could increase - he's always there, always underneath, can go downfield if need be, and now that Busta Anderson seems to have been infected with the drops, a constant pass-catching tight end could be just what the doctor ordered.

SWEET JIMMY: Jimmy Legree has played his butt off in these first seven games. Nobody expected this from him. Legree had the big play of the night, a perfectly timed interception where he suckered Zach Mettenberger into throwing to the flat, then made his move. He tried his best to score, reaching for the pylon, but was down just short. There was no dropoff when Akeem Auguste got hurt. Not by a long shot.

IS IT TURNING?: The result wasn't desired, but USC was given plenty of lucky breaks to win the game. LSU misses a field goal after carving apart the Gamecocks' defense? Les Miles, after seeing his offense drive a hob-nailed boot into USC's face with the run, calls for a fade pass on third-and-goal (that sailed out-of-bounds)? Brad Wing, maybe the best punter in America, shanked two kicks to the sideline, and the one straight one he did manage to hit, was nearly taken to the house by Sanders? Those plays didn't happen to USC for a long, long time. Like, any time before the past three years.



THE BAD

CAN'T RUN: The problem with depending on one staple or one guy to carry the offensive load is obvious - that's stopped, and the team is stopped. USC found out that Lattimore nor Shaw was going to have any room to run, and found out early. Lattimore seemed hesitant, but it wasn't his fault - he was already running full-speed on the handoff, and the hole closed quicker than Nickelback's chance at a Grammy. Shaw couldn't out-run LSU's speedy defenders to the edges, and his attempts to run middle were about as successful as my attempts to get Jessica Biel to go out with me (but it will happen. Oh, yes). To his credit (as mentioned above), Spurrier went with the pass and stuck with it, but USC has placed so much on those two's ability to run the ball that when it doesn't work, USC looks lost. Product of a great defense or a bigger concern? We'll find out.

SLIP 'N' SLIDE: I haven't seen that many missed tackles, well … yeah, I'll say it. Since the last time I saw Clemson play football. Whatever you think of that, fine. Clemson's problems on defense are fundamental - the Tigers can't tackle. On Saturday, neither could USC. Too many times where a running back's second or third effort moved the chains or got the needed yardage. That's just basic, first-day-of-practice stuff. Don't hit, wrap. As a team, LSU averaged 4.9 yards per rush. The Gamecocks couldn't have stopped Northwestern on Saturday - and I don't mean the college team.

BIG-GAMER?: Shaw has played so, so well over the past three weeks that it's easy to forget he's still rather new to being the starting quarterback. While he made all the average-good-great-outstanding plays over the past three weeks, the looming question was if he could do it under pressure - that's the time when the elite quarterbacks, the Unitases and the Elways and the Mannings and the Montanas (genuflecting as I type) step up. Shaw showed some gumption by getting that final touchdown, especially after a fourth-down throw, but by then, it was too little, too late. Why? Because after LSU closed the gap to one point, and Shaw took over knowing that if he ground clock and scored, the game could be clinched, he messed up. On the third play of that "drive," he scrambled and threw off his back foot, Anderson his target. Anderson futilely watched with the rest of USC's faithful as the pass floated right to Eric Reid. That took the wind out of USC's sails. The defense had to go right back on the field and gave up a touchdown on the first play. Game over. The kid is a winner, and he's a great leader, but he has yet to take that next step - the one that Phil Petty and Jeff Grantz and Steve Taneyhill and even Erik Kimrey did. The one that says that no matter what, the quarterback won't screw up in clutch time.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND MOST DEFINITELY UGLY: Sanders keeps doing good things on punt returns, which puts a nice rose-smelling coating on USC's special teams, but there are so many plays where the Gamecocks just don't get it done. How does a punt bounce high in the air on a return, the cover guys surround him, and the returner still gets 20 yards? How do punts keep sailing out-of-bounds? How does Sanders' big return get knocked out because of a hit on a defender out-of-bounds? I do believe that Joe Robinson is doing his best, but you're seeing exactly what he walked into. USC never placed an emphasis on strong special teams, and is paying for it now.

JUST SAY NO: Yes, it's ridiculous to think a change in uniform cost the Gamecocks the game. I know that. But numbers don't lie - three times USC has worn special uniforms, three times it's lost. The next time somebody wants to do it, either tell them no thanks or wait for one of the non-Clemson non-conference games.



THE UGLY

RIGHT THIS WAY: A patchwork offensive line, missing three starters, one of whom is pouting because he's playing out of position, completely dominates a defensive line that has been the class of the best conference in college football this season. Right. I'll take "Things That Will Happen Quicker Than A Sequel To 'Ishtar'" for $1,000, Alex. Yet, that's what happened. LSU was driving the John Deere and USC was the dirt, getting absolutely plowed under. Jadeveon Clowney said that only some of the front seven came to play, and he was right - the Gamecocks were blown apart by the Tigers' O-linemen, a horribly bad performance when they could least afford it. LSU went pitch-left, pitch-right over and over and USC, a week after dominating Georgia on perimeter plays, couldn't stop it. Missed tackles played a part in it, but mostly, USC's D-line was treated like it was the pitch man for a Bourbon Street club. You know, the guy that stands on the street and tells you how great everything is inside, until you get in and realize that you've been conned. The pass-rush was negated, LSU did whatever it wanted to with the run and now USC just has to stop Florida's Mike Gillislee, who ran all over an LSU D that USC couldn't solve.

THIRD/FIRST DOWN: Kentucky made huge plays on third down. Georgia didn't have a great third-down percentage, but showed the tendency to make third downs when it had to. LSU, on third down, might as well have been facing an empty field. The Gamecocks gave up 11-of-19, which really made it no mystery why USC looked gassed in the fourth quarter. The defense simply could not get off the field. About to go play a team that also carved apart a running team, USC needs to know that its third-down defense can be as dominant as it has been. It cannot expect Florida to recognize a third-and-short situation, throw up its hands (claws?) and surrender.



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