By Casey Gisclair
Steve Spurrier owned LSU as the head coach of the Florida Gators, but with South Carolina, things have been a bit of a different story.
Since taking over as the Gamecocks’ headman, the “Head Ball Coach” is winless against LSU – a stat that he’d like to change on Saturday as the Tigers host South Carolina in Tiger Stadium. Saturday’s contest, originally scheduled in South Carolina, has changed venues because of the ongoing recovery efforts resulting from severe flooding in South Carolina.
— Gamecock Athletics (@GamecocksOnline) October 7, 2015
On paper, LSU is the better team, but the Tigers have now struggled for two-straight weeks to finish off inferior non-conference competition. Fortunately for LSU, the Gamecocks have been worse. They’ve struggled all season.
LSU OFFENSE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA DEFENSE
In the past two games, LSU quarterback Brandon Harris has played well below his capabilities. The Tigers’ sophomore signal caller has completed only 12 of 31 passes for 237 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in his past eight quarters of football. The past few seasons, South Carolina’s defense had been so bad that Harris’ struggles would have gone overlooked, but this year’s Gamecocks defense actually has allowed just 388.8 yards per game through the first five.
South Carolina junior linebacker Skai Moore is one of those rare players who possess an instinctive nose for the football. Moore has already recorded 52 tackles and three interceptions this season. The good news for LSU is that if South Carolina has any weakness in its defensive unit, it is its rush defense. The Gamecocks allow nearly five yards per rush and have yielded 170 yards per game on the ground this season.
For LSU, the challenge is to just keep getting better. It’s pretty well known by now that Leonard Fournette is the focal point of the Tigers’ offense, but LSU also needs to find ways to utilize Harris’ strengths and get him some nice, comfortable, safe throws to better utilize. Of course, the receivers can help Harris out by catching the ball – something they didn’t do much of on Saturday against Eastern Michigan. Expect the Tigers to rebound and have a big day.
LSU DEFENSE VS. SOUTH CAROLINA OFFENSE
The LSU defense is tough, but it has a dirty little secret: the team’s linebackers cannot play in coverage, not even a little bit. After seeing it now for two-straight weeks, and in three of four games, it’s about time for linebackers Deion Jones and Kendell Beckwith to merge minds with defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to find a solution that works. If not, opponents will continue to dink and dunk the football to backs and tight ends for both short yardage and long, time-consuming drives.
The silver lining for the Tigers is that South Carolina may not be gifted enough yet offensively to take advantage of the Tigers’ weaknesses. South Carolina’s passing game has been a wreck so far this season, averaging just 163.2 yards per game with 51.9 percent completions – all numbers that are minuscule by Steve Spurrier’s standards.
Lorenzo Nunez was the guy under center for the Gamecocks on Saturday against Missouri – a dual threat option who is also the team’s leading rusher. The guy to watch on the South Carolina offense is Pharoh Cooper. The junior South Carolina receiver has amassed 403 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns, and the Gamecocks will feed Cooper the ball early and often, in the Wildcat formation, as a receiver, and even at tailback. However, with the amount of speed that LSU possesses on defense, bottling up what’s proven to be a pretty simple South Carolina offense should be not a huge issue.
The LSU special teams are a wreck. The punter is inconsistent, the kicker is okay but inexperienced, and the coverage units are abysmal and have routinely allowed decent-sized returns throughout the last few weeks. Against South Carolina, LSU better fix those issues, because Cooper is a tough customer to handle on punting situations.
Gamecocks kicker Elliott Fry isn’t too shabby, either – if given a short try. Fry is 7 of 7 on the season in kicks that are from 39-yards on-in. He’s just 3 of 7 on tries 40 yards or longer. But in Cooper we trust, and he gives the Gamecocks the check mark.
Advantage: South Carolina
Something about this game should strike fear into the purple and gold hearts of every Tiger fan. Is LSU the better team? Yes, there’s no doubt about it. But in every college football season, Steve Spurrier finds a way to pull a rabbit out of his hat and do something unexpected to shake up the college football landscape. Last year a mediocre Gamecocks team upset No. 6 Georgia 38-35, before falling to 7-6 in 2014. Will history repeat? I don’t think so, but I do think that the Spurrier magic will make this one an ugly, brutally close affair.
LSU 27, South Carolina 21
LSU Tigers (4-0, 2-0) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (2-3, 0-3)
Tiger Stadium (102,321); Baton Rouge, La.
Saturday, Oct. 11; TBD
TV: ESPN; Radio: 98.1 FM