Teams don’t win at LSU’s “Death Valley” so much as they survive. South Carolina battled over four punishing quarters Saturday, but couldn’t make a fourth-quarter lead stand up in a 23-21 loss to #9 LSU. The win extended LSU’s nation’s-best home win streak to 22 games, while ending the Gamecocks’ nation’s-best 10-game win streak.
But a loss in Death Valley doesn’t mean a death sentence. The Gamecock coaches were quick to point out that a win over Florida puts Carolina back on track for an SEC Eastern Division title, and a return trip to the Georgia Dome. When they left the Baton Rouge tarmac at 2:20 a.m. EST, the Gamecocks were down. When they returned to Columbia, they knew they were far from out.
“Notes, Quotes, and Anecdotes” from a night where four quarters felt more like 15 rounds:
Tote The Rock: LSU could’ve tried to hide its offensive line. The Tigers had to play a sixth different starting lineup in seven games, after right guard Josh Williford (concussion) and right tackle Alex Hurst (personal issues) were ruled out.
Yet instead of running from its problem, LSU ran behind it – literally. Using a rotating cast of tailbacks, the Tigers pounded out 258 rushing yards over 53 carries, more than tripling Carolina’s season average. Even the stingiest defenses get fatigued.
Carolina encountered its biggest problem on first down. LSU averaged 6.46 yards per rushing play on first downs (take away Jeremy Hill‘s 50-yard touchdown, and it still comes out to a healthy 4.72 yards).
How shocking was that? South Carolina came in allowing 2.27 yards per carry on first down… the 4th-lowest average in the nation.
On First Down…
LSU First-Down Rushing Avg. 6.46
USC First-Down Rush Defense 2.27 (4th NCAA)
Play of the Game: Reginald Bowens averaged 17 tackles per game as a senior at Garner HS outside Durham, N.C. The linebacker showed his nose for the football in the first quarter, stoning tailback Spencer Ware on what appeared to be an inevitable touchdown on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. On a night when Carolina struggled against the run, Bowens’ “Ware-housing” stood out.
First Time For Everything: LSU may have extended its home winning streak to 22 games, but another streak came to an end. Tigers tailback Spencer Ware had 0 fumbles in 242 career rushing attempts before Shaq Wilson stripped him on LSU’s opening drive. Ware rescued the ball before it squirted away.
That was only the start of a remarkable night for Wilson. Two weeks after finishing without a tackle at Kentucky, the Jacksonville, Fla., senior posted a career-high 14 tackles and a sack.
Amazing Stat: Until the Gamecocks’ final touchdown drive, LSU had run 45 plays inside Carolina territory. The Gamecocks had run 42 plays total.
That Carolina only lost by two seems even more remarkable.
Coming Up Aces: Junior Ace Sanders put together the most complete game of his career, scoring a touchdown for a fifth straight game while adding another scintillating punt return. Even after T.J. Gurley‘s penalty, Sanders gained 50 yards on his third-quarter punt return. LSU had allowed 2 punt return yards all season, 5th-best in the nation.
Punt and Run
LSU Punt Return Yards Allowed (2012): 2
Ace Sanders Punt Return 50
And Finally… The Gamecocks have been down this road before. In 2010, South Carolina suffered a dispiriting, 41-20 loss to Arkansas at Williams-Brice Stadium. The next week, Carolina marched into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, an SEC East title at stake, and pummeled Florida 36-14. The lesson: losses only define teams if they let them. At his taping of “Carolina Calls,” Steve Spurrier wondered if Saturday’s loss may help the Gamecocks as they prepare for a Florida team that’s built similarly to LSU. The Gators also rely on smashmouth running – they’re averaging their highest rushing total since Emmitt Smith’s final year – and fearless, physical line play. Oh, and expect another ear-splitting atmosphere to greet Carolina at the “Swamp.”
Saturday’s loss may have stung, but the Gamecocks won’t have to wait long for an atonement.
Join us next week for our chart prep against Florida. Thanks for diving “Inside The Chart” with us. -AD–