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October 15, 2012
Report Card: USC-LSU
We break down every aspect of South Carolina's last game and assign a grade. Go to the head of the class if the grades you assigned the Gamecocks match ours. You've heard the rest, now hear the best.
NO. 9 LSU 23, NO. 3 SOUTH CAROLINA 21
Connor Shaw's running ability was stifled by LSU's mammoth defensive front, and his speed around the edges was cut off by the Tigers' fleet defensive ends. That much was somewhat expected - Shaw said as much in the days leading up to the game, that he wasn't sure that he could run past players like that. That part of it was understood as he was trying and had nowhere to go. What was disappointing was the passing. After three straight games where Shaw did pretty much whatever he wanted, he seemed nervous and unsure when trying to throw. He held onto the ball too long (which has been a problem lately) and LSU made him pay. Then when he had the lead and the ball, a lot of time and the need to author a long, time-consuming scoring drive, he threw an interception on a horrible pass that sailed over Busta Anderson's head. It was Shaw's first try at being that elite field general, and also his first try at trying to run a comeback possession, so perhaps some slack could be cut. But that interception was the death blow.
Marcus Lattimore did hesitate much more than he normally does, but one of those hesitations made four guys miss and he scored a touchdown on it. It's hard to blame him for having no holes or room to run through; that was all LSU's defensive front. They got to Lattimore early and often and shut him down. I don't believe his effort was included in Steve Spurrier's Sunday comments, that a few members of the team played scared. Still, 35 yards on 13 carries is not what USC expects when it depends on Lattimore.
Ace Sanders had a fine game, as did Bruce Ellington, but the rest of the receivers were again missing in action. Shaw is trying to let the routes develop by staying in the pocket, but still, seven games in, the receivers haven't shown that they can separate. And there has still been no emergence of a tall, jump-ball receiver. USC's passing game is dependent on slants and sideline routes to short guys - there's nothing wrong with it, as long as they can get open. And they're not doing it too well.
Anderson also dropped an easy touchdown throw, but USC scored on the possession anyway. Justice Cunningham had a marvelous catch on the sideline, showing off a leap that had gone undiscovered until Saturday.
The Gamecocks' O-line followed up one of its best games with one of its worst. Yes, LSU is stacked with future NFL talent, but if you'll look at the opposite - how LSU's offensive line performed against an LSU-like defensive line for USC - there is a stark contrast. Maybe an unfair contrast, but still a stark one. USC couldn't pass-block effectively, and for sure couldn't open up any running lanes. The Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage and controlled the game from the opening whistle.
Against an offensive front missing three starters and switching all kinds of ways, USC's future NFL stars completely flopped. The Gamecocks' front was bulldozed, run through, run around and passed over in easily its worst performance of the season. It was as shocking as it was curious - how did LSU manage to do it? Jadeveon Clowney said afterward that much of the front seven didn't come to play, and it's hard to dispute him looking at the results. There was no adjustment, no production and no tackling. Zach Mettenberger, who was harassed by Florida in a six-point showing last week, looked like an all-star.
The Gamecocks had a lot of tackles to show for their day, but the reason why was that the defensive front couldn't do its job. The LBs, time and again, saw running backs come to them and couldn't wrap up after the initial hit. There was no filling of the lanes, either, which is why LSU may now lead the country in rushing yards after contact. Shaq Wilson played a great game and left everything he had on the field - not many others did.
Jimmy Legree had the big play with an interception nearly returned for a touchdown, but the rest of the secondary didn't do what the LBs didn't do - play up to stop the run or be able to stop the pass. Mettenberger hit short passes all night and USC wasn't doing anything to stop him. The swagger that the unit was playing with was lost.
Sanders had another good punt return, but the rest of the unit - same old, same old. More big returns. More non-coverage on kicks. Another kick out-of-bounds. Nobody inherited a rose garden, but to see the same mistakes happen week after week is very disappointing.
Spurrier did a wise move, not even attempting to use the run and sticking with the pass. He also gambled on a couple of moves, like going for a long fourth-down pickup instead of kicking a field goal when down two possessions late in the game. Lorenzo Ward obviously didn't have a good day, his defense not adjusting to what LSU was doing. How much of that was scheme and how much of it was simply not playing good fundamentals is up for debate.
OVERALL GRADE: D