After everyone bailed on them, after all the world seemed to doubt them following a frustrating 14-6 loss at Florida, you wondered how the LSU Tigers would respond in a heavyweight bout against South Carolina.
We all questioned their play, their coaching, their heart, and certainly their ability to cobble a makeshift offensive line together and take on the Gamecocks’ fearsome front four.
Well, Rocky Balboa would have loved this one, for sure.
Rocky-like, the No. 9 Tigers got up off the canvas time and again and pulled out a 23-21 victory over the No. 3 S.C. in a one for the ages in Tiger Stadium.
Boxing may have lost its grip on the American sports scene, but what LSU and South Carolina gave us Saturday night in Tiger Stadium was a football version of a heavyweight scrap.
Punch and counter, jab and dance. And, as Apollo Creed’s corner man screamed during “Rocky II” to no avail: “Stay away from him!” The Tigers stayed away from the Gamecocks’ uber-defensive end Jadaveon Clowney as best they could. To that end, their perimeter blocking was superb, springing the running backs time and again for 258 yards rushing against a team allowing just 83.8 in 2012.
With tackle Alex Hurst AWOL and guard Josh Williford sidelined because of a concussion, LSU’s O-line looked like a sea shanty in a hurricane. The gale blew, but the walls somehow stood.
LSU players continued to drop during the game, as they have all season. Tailback Spencer Ware went to the locker room for part of the first half with a stomach ailment. South Carolina native Sam Montgomery went down at the goal line. J.C. Copeland got hurt, as did Eric Reid making a critical interception, both in the fourth quarter. All came back for more.
With Alfred Blue long gone and Ware in and out, the Tigers needed another strong pair of legs to help carry them through this one.
Meet Jeremy Hill.
The freshman from Redemptorist, banished from football in 2011 because of legal issues, came through on the biggest stage of his young life with nothing less than a clutch performance.
Hill rushed 17 times for 124 yards and both of LSU’s touchdowns, the second on a 50-yarder with 5:03 to go to put the Tigers up 23-14.
Credit the Gamecocks, too. They didn’t fold, driving back 77 yards to complete a fourth down pass to the LSU goal line and punch it in to bring South Carolina within an onside kick and a field goal of pulling this one out.
Didn’t happen. LSU got it back, punted deep and snuffed out South Carolina’s last hope when Craig Loston picked off Connor Shaw to preserve the two-point win, much like in LSU’s 12-10 win at Auburn.
Rematch in Atlanta on Dec. 1 for the SEC title? As much as the Tigers and Gamecocks would each love to be there, they probably don’t want to see the other there.
“Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” Creed said at the end of the first “Rocky” movie. “Don’t want one.”
That would be too bad, because the rest of us would be riveted.