The game film of LSU’s 23-21 victory over South Carolina on Saturday provided more pleasant viewing than the other Tigers’ other games this season.
It was certainly more pleasant than last week’s review of a 14-6 loss at Florida. Even victories against North Texas, Idaho, Auburn and Towson provided the coaches with plenty of teachable moments as the outcomes nearly shared top billing with LSU’s mistakes.
Only the 41-3 victory against Washington on Sept. 8 came close to the performance against the Gamecocks.
But Saturday’s victory was different: the first this season against a ranked opponent, a performance that featured much-improved offensive play, continued high-quality defense, and fewer mistakes than had been the norm.
“As an entire team, we need to make sure that we continue to ride on this,” offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk said Monday. “We don’t want it to be the hangover after a big game. That’s something that we have to make sure that we don’t let happen this week.”
The offensive line stole the show against South Carolina. Despite playing without three starters, the line put aside inconsistency that had plagued it for much of the season and got the better of the Gamecocks’ vaunted front.
Dworaczyk returned from a calf injury to start at left tackle, where Chris Faulk was lost for the season because of a knee injury. Freshman Vadal Alexander played right tackle in place of Alex Hurst, who wasn’t with the team while dealing with an unspecified personal issue. Redshirt freshman Trai Turner replaced Josh Williford, who has a concussion, at right guard.
Those three meshed with center P.J. Lonergan and left guard La’el Collins to produce the fifth different starting unit and the line’s best performance of the season. LSU rushed for 258 yards and accumulated 406 total yards, and Zach Mettenberger was sacked just once.
“We’re always going to be critics,” Dworaczyk said. “We know we definitely didn’t play perfect, but when you see that kind of effort and that kind of heart out of those young guys and out of P.J. and La’el, how they played, it does make it easier, and you know that guys left it out there on the field. It ended up working, and we were successful as a group of guys playing together as one.
“So you watch that film and you want to learn from it. You also want to pick up things that you can do better at practice and go out there and play even better. We want to make sure that we understand that, yeah it might have been the best game that we played as an entire group, as an entire offensive line, but that’s where the bar’s at now, and we need to make sure that we play better.”
The film is always going to reveal imperfections, no matter how well a team plays.
“Nobody can play a perfect game,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. “There are always going to be those games where you make mistakes. We just did a good job of covering them up with guys on the back end so they don’t look as big. It’s about minimizing them.
“We did a good job of getting off the field, getting three-and-outs against a pretty good offense, but I’m sure there will be a lot of plays that come up that were busts.”
LSU had a critical turnover and was penalized five times, but it had been averaging two turnovers and more than eight penalties in the first six games.
“I think we’re evolving,” coach Les Miles said. “There was a little bit less penalties, a little less mistakes, a little coming off age. That needs to continue.”
The Tigers said they won’t let the satisfaction of the victory linger any longer than they did the loss at Florida.
“We feel good, but we still have the 24-hour rule,” safety Craig Loston said. “You have 24 hours to feel sorry for yourself or to feel good about yourself, then you move on to the next team. Our 24 hours are over, and now it’s on to Texas A&M.”
LSU did Saturday what it almost always has done after a loss during Miles’ eight seasons: rebound with a victory. The Tigers have lost consecutive games just once under Miles.
“We have an established culture in that building,” Miles said. “They need victory. It’s a very urgent need, both assistant coaches and players. I suspect it’s based on one thing: the fact that they like to play and they like to win.”
The loss against Florida was the Tigers’ first in the regular season in two years and helped fuel their preparation for South Carolina. The key this week is to have a repeat performance without that same fuel.
“It’s hard for us to lose two games in a row,” said safety Eric Reid, whose fourth-quarter interception set up a field goal that gave the Tigers the lead for good. “The intensity was there, and that’s something that we have to make sure that we do for the rest of the season, because every game is as important. We have to keep that intensity up, keep playing like we did this week.”
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