Ball control, run defense led to LSU win
Though LSU allowed its second-highest point total of the season in a 23-21 victory against South Carolina on Saturday, the Tigers continued to be remarkably stingy with yards.
They held the Gamecocks to a season-low 211 yards total offense. They held running back Marcus Lattimore, who was averaging 91.5 yards per game, to 35 yards (on 13 carries), the third-lowest total in his three-year career.
LSU is allowing an average of 220 yards per game, which is 41 yards per game less than last season when the Tigers had one of the best defenses in the country.
Weakside linebacker Lamin Barrow said defensive coordinator John Chavis preached all week to keep Lattimore “bottled up.”
“He is a great runner,” Barrow said, “but if you stop him and hit him early, he (slows) down. We just tried to stop his feet. He made some good plays here and there, but as a defense we rallied to him and shut him down.”
Barrow had a big hand in shutting down Lattimore and slowing down the Gamecocks. He led the team with 12 tackles, setting a new career high that surpassed the previous high of nine that he had last week at Florida.
The Tigers set the tone in the first half as they held Lattimore to 25 yards on 10 carries.
“I think it stunned us for the first half,” South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said. “We couldn’t really establish it early on, and that’s usually what we’ve been doing this season.”
Shaw was the only Gamecock besides Lattimore to run the ball. He had 12 carries for a net of minus-1, partly because of four sacks that resulted in minus-30 yards.
“I know we didn’t have many (rushing yards) at all,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose team finished with 34. “We didn’t run it here as well as we hoped we would. I give those guys credit. We’ve played some good defenses, but they’re really good.”
The game featured two of the best defensive end tandems in the country in the Gamecocks’ Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and LSU’s Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. But Lattimore said it was the Tigers’ tackles — primarily Bennie Logan, Josh Downs and Anthony Johnson — who caught his eye.
“Of course, their two defensive ends, they’re great players,” Lattimore said, “but the defensive tackles are the ones that make the D-line go. Just a great D-line, probably the best we’ve seen — one of the best defenses we’ve seen, probably ever.”
South Carolina converted just 3 of 13 third downs (23 percent) after coming into the game having converted 46 percent for the season.
“The defense went out there and stopped and stymied a very good South Carolina offense,” Tigers coach Les Miles said.
The game was especially significant for Montgomery, who’s from Greenwood, S.C., and was recruited strongly by the Gamecocks. He had two of the sacks — tying the career-high he set at Alabama last season — and forced a fumble. He had just two sacks in the previous six games combined.
“I just wanted to get back to the basics,” Montgomery said. “It seemed like the right time coming out with South Carolina coming in No. 3, my mom was at the game for the first time this season, and there were so many things to play for.”
The Tigers offense gave the defense much more help than it did in the 14-6 loss at Florida. They not only scored 17 more points, but they possessed the ball for nearly 37 minutes, meaning the defense was on the field for just 23:03 after being on the field for 37:24 last week.
LSU had a time-of-possession advantage in each quarter, possessing the ball for 9:21 in the first quarter, 8:50 in the second, 10:09 in the third and 8:37 in the fourth.
“Them being out there for long drives gave us time to rest,” Montgomery said. “It didn’t matter if they scored or not.”
LSU went three and out just twice in 13 possessions. Its scoring drives covered 69, 69, 75, 17 and 50 yards. Even two of the field-goal drives were time consuming as the Tigers twice ran 16 plays even though they came away with just three points. The 16-play possessions tied a season-long that was established in the season opener against North Texas.
Freshman linebacker Lamar Louis of New Iberia made his first start in place of fellow freshman Kwon Alexander, who will be sidelined at least for the rest of the regular season because of the broken ankle he suffered against Florida. Louis assisted on two tackles and had a team-high two quarterback hurries.
The defense came up with two interceptions. Safety Eric Reid’s was arguably the biggest play of the game as it gave the Tigers the ball at the Gamecocks’ 22, leading to Drew Alleman’s 22-yard field goal that gave LSU the lead for good with 6:37 remaining in the game. The other came on the game’s final play as Shaw was desperately trying to move South Carolina up the field.
The play began at the Gamecocks 32 with 10 seconds left on the clock. Mingo pressured Shaw, whose pass was tipped by Tharold Simon and intercepted by Craig Loston, who returned 10 yards to run out the clock before falling to the ground.