LSU gets shot at top-five opponent in night game in Tiger Stadium
LSU returns to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night for the first time since seeing its 18-game regular-season win streak end in a 14-6 loss at Florida last Saturday.
The ninth-ranked Tigers (5-1 and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference) are back home for the first time since bad weather and an obscure opponent (Towson) helped create a half-empty stadium that housed an uninspired crowd and team two weeks ago.
The opposition will be provided by No. 3 South Carolina (6-0, 4-0), the first ranked SEC team to enter Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night since No. 1 Florida came to town in 2009.
A second consecutive loss would be just the second such defeat in LSU coach Les Miles’ eight seasons and would make a second consecutive SEC title and a return trip to the BCS title game virtually unattainable for the Tigers.
On the other hand, a victory against the highest-ranked Gamecocks team to ever visit Tiger Stadium would resuscitate LSU’s primary goals.
In other words, this Saturday night in Death Valley is a time for the Tigers to demonstrate what Saturday night in Death Valley is all about, to live up to the slogan for this season — “Stand Right Up And Roar.”
“I want Tiger Stadium to be a loud and very difficult place to play for our opponent,” said Miles, who will be coaching his 100th game at LSU.
The Tigers have won a school-record 21 consecutive home games. Their last home loss came in that game against the top-ranked Gators three years ago, 13-3.
Their performance against this year’s Gators last week has called into question whether their championship goals are realistic.
LSU turned the ball over three times, giving it 11 in six games. It had 10 turnovers in 14 games last season.
The Tigers were penalized eight times, increasing their infraction total to 27 in the past three games and an SEC-worst 50 for the season.
They ran for just 42 yards, partly because Zach Mettenberger was sacked four times for losses totaling 19 yards. The offense’s ineffectiveness — eight first downs, 22 minutes and 36 seconds of possession time and 200 total yards, eventually took a toll on the defense, which limited Florida to 75 yards on 11 other possessions, but yielded two long touchdown drives.
The offense is facing a higher-ranked defense this week. South Carolina leads the SEC with 25 sacks, and the next highest total is 17.
The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in scoring defense (10.5) and rushing defense (83.8), third in total defense (278) and fifth in pass defense (194.2).
Though the running game was lacking last week, the passing game has been lacking most weeks.
Zach Mettenberger ranks 10th in the SEC in pass efficiency (139.9), and LSU doesn’t have a receiver among the top 15 in the conference.
Sophomore receiver Jarvis Landry said the cause of the passing game’s inefficiency is “everything.”
“We can’t have an effective passing game when we can’t stop the pass rush,” Landry said. “We can’t have an effective passing game when receivers can’t catch the ball. We can’t have an effective passing game when the quarterback doesn’t have enough trust or time to throw us the ball. So I think it’s everything. We need to trust in each other.”
This game features, perhaps, the two best tandems of defensive ends in the country in South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.
The Tigers, who gave up 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Mike Gillislee last week, will try to slow down Marcus Lattimore, who is averaging 91.5 yards per game (4.7 yards per carry), and has scored nine touchdowns.
“We try to give the ball to him as much as we can, but we know we can’t give it to him every play,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said of Lattimore.
““We’ve got to mix in the throws, and this, that, and the other.”
Quarterback Connor Shaw has done a good job of mixing in the throws and the other. Shaw’s the Gamecocks’ second-leading rusher and he tops the SEC in passing efficiency.
South Carolina, which beat then-No. 5 Georgia 35-7 last week, visits No. 4 Florida next week.
“It’s difficult, but we knew what it was in advance,” Spurrier said of the Gamecocks’ midseason gauntlet. “We were able to look ahead a little bit. At the beginning of the season, we looked at it and we knew we had four straight against Georgia, LSU, Florida and Tennessee (on Oct. 27), which would make or break our season. So we tried our best to get ready to play all of them, and here we are with number two in that stretch.”
This is number two in a pretty rough stretch for LSU, too. The game against the Gators began a streak of five games against teams with a combined record of 25-1.
This one is a No. 3-vs.-No. 9 SEC showdown in Death Valley on Saturday night.
“I expect it to be ridiculous,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “Tiger Stadium, on a regular basis, is pretty much crazy anyway. South Carolina is coming in here and they’re number three. It’s going to be one of those games to remember.”