Another week, another big showdown in the SEC. This matchup lost some of its appeal when LSU lost to Florida last week, but this game still features two of the nation’s top-10 teams.
South Carolina blasted Georgia last Saturday, dominating from the opening snap and finishing with a 35-7 victory. Although the win over the Bulldogs was huge for positioning in the SEC, the Gamecocks can’t afford to be overconfident, especially with Florida emerging as a top-five team.
Night games in Baton Rouge have provided some memorable moments, and the home crowd should give LSU plenty of momentum after last week’s disappointing road loss. The Tigers have not lost back-to-back games since 2008 and in 19 matchups against South Carolina, LSU has lost just two times.
Storylines to Watch in South Carolina vs. LSU
South Carolina’s defensive line vs. LSU’s offensive line
This was supposed to be a strength versus strength matchup. However, LSU’s offensive line has suffered a few setbacks this year, as starting left tackle Chris Faulk was lost for the year with a torn ACL, and guard Josh Williford left last week’s game against Florida due to injury. Tackle Alex Hurst missed practice time due to personal issues and may not play on Saturday night. The Tigers’ injury and personnel concerns on the line will be magnified this week, especially with South Carolina’s defensive front coming to town. The Gamecocks rank ninth nationally in rush defense and are averaging 4.2 sacks per game. End Jadeveon Clowney is one of the top players in the nation and has plenty of help around him. LSU needs its offensive line to step up after struggling to generate a push against Florida’s defense. If the Gamecocks dominate the line of scrimmage, LSU will once again have a hard time moving the ball on offense.
Can LSU get quarterback Zach Mettenberger on track?
While it wasn’t expected to be overly prolific, LSU’s passing offense was expected to show improvement in 2012. However, the Tigers have sputtered once again, as they rank 12th in the SEC in passing offense and are averaging just 195.7 yards per game. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has thrown for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns but failed to throw a score against Florida and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. The junior doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards every game, but he has to hit more big plays than LSU has connected on so far. South Carolina’s secondary ranks 28th nationally in pass defense, while its pass rush never allows opposing quarterbacks to get comfortable in the pocket.
Marcus Lattimore vs. LSU’s run defense
As each week passes, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore looks more and more comfortable in his return from a torn ACL. The junior has three 100-yard games this year and has reached paydirt in all six contests. LSU will be Lattimore’s toughest test this season, as the Tigers rank 14th nationally against the run and have allowed only five rushing touchdowns. The Gamecocks’ offensive line has struggled at times this season and matching up against one of the nation’s best defensive fronts will be a challenge. Lattimore is the glue to South Carolina’s offense, as his success helps take the pressure off of quarterback Connor Shaw. Even if running room is limited early on, the Gamecocks need to give Lattimore 20-25 touches. While LSU has plenty of depth on the defensive line, South Carolina’s rushing attack figures to get stronger as the game progresses.
This is a crucial game for both teams, but there is more pressure on LSU to win on Saturday night. The Tigers can’t afford to fall two games behind Alabama in the SEC West standings.
For South Carolina, a win in Baton Rouge would keep alive its national title hopes, as well as move the Gamecocks one step closer to booking a trip to Atlanta to play for the SEC title in December.
There’s no question LSU is a desperate team and it has to have this game. Although quarterback Zach Mettenberger has struggled to find his rhythm, the homefield edge and defense should be enough for the Tigers to beat the Gamecocks on Saturday night.
However, with a tight game expected, the team with the better quarterback will find a way to win.
Final Prediction: South Carolina 20, LSU 17
by Steven Lassan
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