South Carolina struggled on both sides of the ball Saturday night in a 23-21 loss to LSU in Baton…
Postgame Pulse: South Carolina
It's safe to say the atmosphere inside the Tiger Stadium locker room tonight, following LSU's 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina, was a study in contrast.
Tonight there were a lot of exhales and looks of pride brought about by a job well done and a mission accomplished.
Starting with coach Les Miles and seeping down to the players, appreciation for playing at home in front of a raucous crowd was one of the big talking points. It was obvious the team craved it after the experience in The Swamp a week ago.
"Let me tell you: That was Death Valley," Miles said after the game. "That was the place where opponent's dreams come to die. It was spectacular. It started early and it went late. It was with us the whole night."
No. 9 LSU (6-1, 2-1) showed up to play in front of its fans, riding a wave of second-half rushing to victory. On the night the Tigers rattled off 258 yards on the ground, paced by 124 yards and two touchdowns from freshman Jeremy Hill, who had the biggest game of his young Tiger career.
South Carolina boss Steve Spurrier pointed to the Tigers' ground game prowess in postgame interviews as the key to the game.
"They were running much better than we thought they would," admitted the Head Ball Coach. "I was hoping their little field goals might not add up. I guess it came down to the long run (by Hill) when they made that last touchdown. It ended up being the difference maker … They outplayed us and outhit us.
"Tonight I realized why LSU was preseason No. 1. They're a big, strong team. They can run to the ball and stop the run. That was the biggest difference in the game probably. I don't know how many rushing yards they had, but I know we didn't have many at all. I give those guys credit. We weren't really sharp offensively … They deserved to beat us, there's no question about that."
There was equal credit due to John Chavis' defense, which was on the field significantly less than a week ago in Gainesville.
A polar-opposite experience from the one in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, LSU's ‘D' was on the field only 22 minutes, 28 seconds. The offense held the reins for 36 minutes, 57 seconds, leading to the home team running 18 more plays than the Gamecocks.
As a result the fresh LSU defense held South Carolina to 211 total yards of offense.
"You know, just a good D-Line," South Carolina back Marcus Lattimore, who had only 35 yards on 13 carries, said in a sobering manner after the game. "One of the best D-Line's we've seen, just (one of the) best defenses we've seen, probably ever."
Hill, the rare true freshmen who actually was allowed to speak to the media, was thankful for his opportunity during interviews.
"I think that's something the coaches preach. They do a good job of keeping everyone patient," Hill said about the situation with the deep LSU backfield. "This team has a lot of depth. They recruit very well every year. Once you come here, you know you're going to have to wait your turn to play. Once you get that opportunity, you've got to take advantage of it and run with it."
Undoubtedly the biggest key to Hill breaking loose and the offense controlling the game on the ground was the stellar play of the patchwork offensive line.
Out went left tackle Alex Hurst. In went Josh Dworaczyk.
Out went right guard Josh Williford. In went young Trai Turner.
Following the win, everyone wearing purple and gold said it was no surprise. They also indicated the week's worth of practice set the line up for success, rotating pieces and all.
The most candid, as he always is, was Sam Montgomery.
Here's what he had to say on helping get his O-Line ready for tonight: "My whole thing is there was such a big name coming in town such as [Jadeveon] Clowney, I was going to make sure that I went hard. I head-slapped them around, had to give them some of that ‘Saturday Night Sam Montgomery' just to make sure that they were ready for war. Just because I love my team. I refuse to have somebody come in here and just jump on them like that. So I wanted to make sure my guys were going to be okay."
Sonic Sam was also good for my favorite quote of the night, dishing the following pearl about what it means to him, as a native South Carolinian, to topple his home-state school.
"All I know is that from now on, no matter what happens, no matter if I don't play in any more games, I can always sit around on the porch or walk around the State of South Carolina and say that the one time that we played I won," Montgomery said proudly. "That's good enough for me. That's all I want.
"You don't have any idea how much that means to me – to walk around and say the one time we met up, and y'all were number three, I whooped y'all. So when I'm an old man rocking on the porch, sitting back, I can tell them ‘You remember when y'all came down there and I whooped you. Guess you can't talk too much about our team.'"
- There were at least four assistant coaches (Brick Haley, Frank Wilson, Steve Kragthorpe and John Chavis) who made a point to approach offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa after the game, each sharing big embraces and congratulatory words with him. They were all very emotional exchanges. This was obviously a big game for him to help reprove the LSU offense, and he knew it. The other coaches, offense and defense, did too. Great sign for chemistry on the staff.
- Lamin Barrow talked at length about the team meeting LSU had Friday night inside the Lod Cook Hotel, where they stay for every home game. Apparently a number of players addressed the team, but the one who stood out was kicker James Hairston. The sophomore, according to Barrow, stood up, talked about losing his mother at age 13, then told the team LSU football means the world to him, and it's the thing to which he devotes all of his focus, attention. At least one player told me tonight it drove him to tears. The emotions, according to Barrow and Montgomery, were needed on the team, and it sent a message through that both players said this LSU team needed. I've heard players talk about team meetings before. Trust me, this felt different. I'll have more quotes from Barrow on this subject Monday.
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