The No. 3 Gamecocks will take on the No. 9 Tigers in Baton Rouge tonight in a game that has big implications for both teams.
A victory for South Carolina will keep their perfect season intact, keep them in the division/conference title race, and keep them in the mix for national title contenders. A loss won’t destroy their season, but it will make it harder for them to reach both the SEC and national championships.
A win for LSU would keep them alive in the SEC West/conference title race (though I don’t see Alabama going down) and keep a little bit of national title hope alive. A loss would drop them from any sort of title chances.
The Cocks dominated against Georgia last week, but it was in Columbia and the crowd was a big factor for the team. This week, USC will have to execute while on the road in one of the most hostile environments in college football. They’ll also have to face an angry Tigers team who saw their first loss of the season come last weekend against Florida. Because these teams haven’t met since 2008, almost all of the current players on both teams have never faced off against each other.
Look for South Carolina to focus on the running game (i.e. Marcus Lattimore and some rushes from Connor Shaw). That being said, if the Tigers defense is able to shut that down, the passing game is obviously going to become very important. Shaw threw only 10 passes last week, so I’m not expecting much more than that tonight, unless it becomes necessary.
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger has done more throwing than Connor has this season, but he’s struggled when under pressure. If the Gamecocks defense gets to him early and often, he probably won’t have a very good night.
The Tigers offense overall has had some difficulty this season, and things won’t get any easier for them with guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor, Shaq Wilson, and the rest of the Carolina D coming after them. The Gamecocks have seemed to click offensively as of late, but they too will face a strong defensive corps, including the Palmetto State’s own Sam Montgomery.
Special teams – mainly Ace Sanders – were huge for South Carolina last week. Tigers punter Brad Wing is pretty good at his job, and if he booms punts far enough and continuously pins the Cocks deep, we may not get a repeat performance from Sanders.
South Carolina is trying to win its 11th straight game, something that’s never been done before, while LSU is trying to keep their 22-game streak of winning at home alive. Like last week, I expect this to be a hard-fought game. Unlike last week, I don’t think it’ll end up being a blowout.
The Tigers are a 2.5-point favorite, but that’s pretty much just because they’re the home team. That being said, I don’t want to guarantee that this will be an “upset.” The Tigers haven’t quite looked like themselves recently, but Les Miles has succeeded so many times thanks to wacky plays that I don’t think you can ever count LSU out.
My (slightly nervous) prediction is that the Gamecocks pull this one out and win 21-17 in Death Valley.
The game kicks off at 8 ET on ESPN, with Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, and Heather Cox commentating.