It’s no secret the offensive shortcomings ended up costing LSU last week in Gainesville. The stats were mind numbing. Two hundred total yards. One of 13 on third down. Four sacks allowed to the worst rush in the league. Three more turnovers. It was pitiful. Plenty of blame can go around, but the fact of the matter is that everyone has to step up, including the players forced into action because of injury. This South Carolina defense is scary. For LSU to get out of this thing alive, it’s going to take some better execution and some new ideas. Without them, times in Baton Rouge will be tough as the Tigers fall to 1-2 in the league.
LSU Offensive Line vs. South Carolina Defensive Line
I have literally never seen a rash of injuries like this at one core group. LSU now has one projected starter who is healthy and playing his position, La’El Collins. I have reason to believe Alex Hurst will miss this game because of some issues. Josh Williford is doubtful with a concussion, and word is that P.J. Lonergan is ailing this week because of that bad back. That means what you may be looking at is a line that goes left to right like this: Josh Dworaczyk, Collins, Elliot Porter, Trai Turner, Vadal Alexander. That is a nightmare against this Gamecock front. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lonergan try to tough it out, but seeing Williford and or Hurst would be really surprising. What could have been one of the best offensive lines in school history is a shell of its former self.
Last week LSU faced a unit that ranked last in the SEC in sacks. This week, not so much. The Gamecock front four is freakishly athletic and has had no problems getting up the field and into the backfield. These two ends are every bit as good as Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Jadeveon Clowney may be the best player in the SEC. He ranks second in the league in sacks and tackles for loss, and he flat out changes games. He’s 6-feet-6-inches and 256 lbs., and that makes him the little defensive end. Devin Taylor stands 6-feet-8-inches and weighs 267 lbs. on the other side. He’s used those freakish arms to swat three passes down in addition to his four tackles for loss and sack and a half. Senior Byron Jerideau (6’1”, 316) and sophomore Kelcy Quarles (6’4”, 286) are the tackles. Quarles started as a freshman and has backed that up with a really strong sophomore campaign. He’s got five tackles for loss to go with two sacks from the defensive tackle spot. Jerideau is more of a space eater in there, but he’s also made his fair share of tackles for loss.
You hear me say this a lot in LSU games, but it’s not usually this direction. This is a major league mismatch. LSU is crippled up front and will not be able to hold off the horses for four quarters. It’s just that big a talent gap. I expect Clowney and Taylor to do whatever they want in the backfield because Dworaczyk and Alexander just can’t block those guys. Idaho and Auburn just cooked Dworaczyk over there on the blind side, and they don’t have a guy who is going to be the top pick in the 2014 draft on that side. Alexander has never seen a guy with Taylor’s measurable in his life. I think he’s going to be a great tackle at LSU, but Saturday isn’t that day. I also like the way Turner has come along at guard, but these are some grown men in the middle for the Gamecocks. Porter will struggle there, too. Obviously there will be times that the Tiger front will hold, but I don’t think it can consistently enough. Especially not without some help from the passing game.
LSU Running Backs vs. South Carolina Linebackers
These guys had no chance in Gainesville. Florida stacked the box and bottled up these runners before they had a chance. LSU finished with 42 yards on the ground, 1.7 yards per rush. Expect to see more of Kenny Hilliard in this one. He missed some time for the birth of his daughters last week. Spencer Ware appears healthy, and Jeremy Hill got some action late. He’s been good in the receiving game and has fresh legs down the stretch. Obviously Michael Ford has his place in the offense, and I expect that to continue this week as well. J.C. Copeland proved that he’s ready for action last week, although he did commit an inexcusable penalty on the opening drive. Not that those penalties should come as any surprise to a team ranked dead last in the SEC in that department, 12 clear of 13th Florida. This stable is still really good, but it can’t do it alone.
South Carolina plays three seniors in the linebacking corps. It’s an experienced group with a lot of talent. Shaq Wilson is the middle man. He’s short, he’s stocky, and he’s productive, leading South Carolina with 30 stops and a pair of interceptions. Senior Quin Smith is another bulky guy. He plays on the outside and has 30 tackles as well. DeVonte Holloman plays the other side. He’s been a starter since his freshman year in Columbia. He’s got two interceptions and four tackles for loss. As you would expect from a really veteran line backing corps, these guys are in position and they make the plays. You may not see a 1st Team All-SEC name here, but that steady play combined with stars on the other levels is a perfect blend.
I know the bold says “Running Backs vs. Linebackers”, but we all know there is more to it than that. I think these linebackers will have an easy job Saturday night as the defensive line punches holes in the LSU front. These seniors are just going to have to clean up the scraps, something they’re more than capable of. What I do think the linebackers will have to do is cover. Because of the intense pass rush, LSU is going to go to some screens and swing passes to the running backs. Expect that two-back shotgun set we saw in fall camp to come out this week. The South Carolina linebackers are going to have to deal with that. Look, from a talent standpoint, LSU is more than fine here. I just think the mismatch in the trenches will make this tough one the ground game.
LSU Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers vs. South Carolina Secondary
Well I was wrong. I thought this LSU passing attack was going to be feared. I thought it would be dynamic. I thought it would be fun. It sucks. No part of the passing game has clicked through six games. The protection is poor. The quarterback doesn’t feel pressure. His throws are sometimes inaccurate. The routes are poor, and the receivers don’t catch the ball. Is that all? Zach Mettenberger insists every week that the passing game is close to lifting off. Well it better this week. Odell Beckham has had a nightmare of a second season. His fumble last week ended up being the final blow. He’s struggled with drops as well. The early season prime performer was Kadron Boone. Now he can’t catch the ball. James Wright is still a bit sore, and Jarvis Landry is seeing bracket coverage most of the time. What I see in this wide receiving corps is a lack of speed. No one scares the defense. What you did see last week was the continuation of the tight end passing game early. Nic Jacobs can catch the ball, and so can Chase Clement. Maybe those guys show up again this week.
Senior safety D.J. Swearinger is the leader of the South Carolina secondary. He’s been around forever. He missed a game because of a head-to-head hit, but he’s been the rock in the other five. The other safety is sophomore Brison Williams (5’11”, 205). He’s got 28 tackles and pick and three pass defenses. That the sign of an active safety. Sophomore Victor Hampton is one of the corners. He’s not involved in the run game much, but he’s broken up four passes. Junior Jimmy Legree is the other. He’ll mix it up in there. He’s got 26 tackles.
South Carolina’s corners aren’t world beaters. Neither is a returning starter or a senior. The safeties are really good though. I expect LSU to throw the ball more in this game than in any other. The injuries up front are going to force that. Look for bubble screens, slants, slip screens and quick outs. The ball is going to have to come out quickly as Clowney and company fire off the ball. Mettenberger is more comfortable in the shotgun. It means he doesn’t have to go into that slow drop, and his eyes can scan the field more quickly. I’m not telling you that the offense is going to explode through the air, but I think there is some success to be had. Florida’s corners and safeties are excellent. These aren’t that good. The strength of the Carolina defense is up front. This will either work well or fail miserably, but I think it’s the only way. Only time will tell.
Like I said above, LSU will not block USC. I expect tons of cut blocks and chips by the running backs in this one to give Mettenberger just enough time to get the ball out. He needs to throw the ball away if nothing is there. Sacks kill drives. Fumbles lose games. LSU needs to throw the ball to the backs slipping out of the backfield and use the screen game, both WR and RB to slow the South Carolina rush. The offense should look something like what Idaho and North Texas did to LSU when they could not block the defensive line. These four and five star athletes on the outside are going to have to make some people miss and get up the field. Big plays can ignite a crowd and spur on a win. The running game? Well LSU can try, but it won’t look great. Running out of three wides and the shotgun may be a better option to thin out the box. I have not seen LSU do this with any success, though. I can’t predict that it will happen this time.
Prediction: USC 20, LSU 14