Welcome back, LSU.
After a week in non-championship purgatory, the Tigers returned to the BCS fold Saturday night by grinding out a victory over South Carolina that allowed them to stay in the hunt. After all, isn’t that what LSU football is all about?
The Tigers approach each season with a series of goals: Win the Southeastern Conference Western Division. Win the SEC Championship Game and the almost automatic BCS title-game bid that comes with it. And then beat the hell out of some no-defense pretender from the Big 12 or Pac 12.
But in LSU’s case, the loss at Florida put the Tigers up against the wall with no margin for error. Simply put, if LSU loses again, all BCS hopes are done. Accordingly, Saturday night set up to be a beauty, No. 3 visiting No. 9, and the game didn’t disappoint. No, LSU’s 23-12 victory over South Carolina was like old-timey football, especially on the Tigers’ end, where two defenses slugged it out and waited for the other team to make the big mistake. Which Conner Shaw did, throwing an absolutely awful interception that pretty much did the Gamecocks in.
What also did them in was the blast that Sam Montgomery put on Shaw late in the game on third-and-11 from the South Carolina 18. The big kid from, of all places, Greenwood, S.C., came flying in and leveled Shaw for an 11-yard loss. It was a hit of hits that made South Carolina punt.
“All the hard work, all the summertime, all the doubters and all the naysayers, got real quiet,” Montgomery said. “Even though it was loud in the stadium, it was real quiet in my world.”
Montgomery’s world is way different than most, but that’s another story. Anyway, after the punt, on first down, LSU’s Jeremy Hill went 50 yards for a TD and LSU led 23-14 and the game was all but over with 5:03 left.
Montgomery is the most fun postgame Tiger.
The enthusiasm he exhibits on the field carries over to interviews. The kid known as Sonic because of his love for the video-game character Sonic Hedgehog is a delight. And he’s from South Carolina, where he cracked that years from now, when he’s old and sitting on the porch back home, he can remind his friends that no matter how things turned out, when he finally got to play the Gamecocks, LSU won in their big matchup back in 2012.
Montgomery’s mom was also visiting him for the first time this season.
“There were so many things to play for other than just one game,” Montgomery said.
That’s largely because a week earlier, LSU was trying to regroup from that 14-6 loss at Florida, a defeat that put the Tigers on full alert.
“There’s one thing that we do in Greenwood, South Carolina,” Montgomery said. “After a loss, we’re the worst team to come back and play. It’s one of those things where you’re not really made but somebody almost took your dreams away from you. So your aspirations, your will to fight, it all goes up times 10.”
One can only imagine what practice was like.
Then Friday night the players held a meeting without their coaches in the Lod Cook hotel where they stay on campus the night before a game. Montgomery said the details were going to stay within the team, but that the theme was simply the Tigers had to come together as a family and quit worrying about anything but the next game.
“If you win every week and focus on every week, you get the championships,” Montgomery said. “If you think from the beginning of the season I’m going to the championship, what about the AP polls, a little team like Towson can come in here and give us a run for our money, which they did. So therefore, let’s get back to basics and worry about from week to week to week to week.”
This week the Tigers go to Texas A&M, the SEC newcomer.
LSU is 6-1 overall, 2-1 in the SEC, while A&M is 5-1, 2-1. In the season opener, Florida escaped Kyle Field with a 20-17 victory, which means A&M is three points away from perfection regardless of its schedule.
The Aggies can score points in bunches – 48 against SMU, 70 against S.C. State, 58 against Arkansas and then this past Saturday they beat Louisiana Tech 59-57. LSU’s defense is certainly superior to anything Texas A&M has faced since Florida, but LSU’s offense simply can’t keep up if the game does come down to a so-called shootout.
No matter what, it all comes back to the same thing we’ve talked about since last January 9. Only now, because LSU has a loss, the Tigers have to win at Texas A&M before taking a week off in preparation for the November 3 meeting with Alabama in Baton Rouge.
Nothing has changed. Unbeaten Bama goes to Tennessee on Saturday, then comes home for Mississippi State before heading to LSU with, if LSU wins at Texas A&M, a winner-take-all spot in the SEC Championship Game on the line.
Those goals we listed at the beginning? They’re still attainable because LSU was able to regroup and beat South Carolina. To go all the way the Tigers will basically have to survive in a must-win situation for more than half the season, but what else would you expect in the SEC?
--- Baton Rouge sportswriter and television host Lee Feinswog has been covering LSU sports since 1984 and is the author of three books, two about LSU football. Find him and watch clips from his show at www.sports225.com.