This was not a typical LSU football game. OK, it had some of the earmarks of a Les Miles Special. It featured some baffling time management decisions, huge swings of momentum, a killer defense just clinging on for dear life, and mistakes keeping the other team in the game. So it wasn't entirely unlike the white knuckle ride we're used to this season.
However, the big difference this game was hat LSU flat out dominated the state sheet, but lost the special teams battle throughout. That is not how LSU has won games. In fact, it's been the opposite. LSU outgained South Carolina by a near two-to-one margin, but couldn't get any points because of the three great failings of this year's team: turnovers, red zone inefficiency, and special teams.
The special teams is the real head scratcher. How did LSU's special teams go from perhaps the best in the country to a liability in almost every game this season. Brad Wing had some terrible punts, including a ten yarder, and even his good punts weren't that good. He failed to pin South Carolina inside their 20 a single time. LSU lost the battle of field position yet again.
The special teams biggest influence on this game though was the specter of a missed field goal.
Drew Alleman missed a 32-yard field early in the 2nd quarter, and the missing three points defined the rest of the game. LSU first failed to respond to South Carolina's first score, so despite dominated the statsheet, LSU was down 7-3. Given LSU's red zone struggles, a touchdown seemed unlikely at the time. And throughout the game, as the lead did start to change hands, LSU always seemed to need a touchdown while SC just needed that kick to stay ahead. Even at the end, South Carolina's final gasp only needed a field goal, not a desperation touchdown thanks to those missing three points.
The game wasn't perfect, but it was pretty much everything we could have asked for. LSU was able to go back to smash mouth football, and with the game on the line, broke the game open with a Jeremy Hill run. The defense looked great again, giving up scores on short fields and at the end of the game when playing a bit too soft.
I wouldn't call the passing game solved, but it at least didn't look hopeless this week. There were some moments of actual competence, and Mettenberger was consistently able to convert 3rd and mediums. There were still drops, a terrible interception, and general ineffectiveness inside the 20, but it was still progress. Rome wasn't built in a day.
The biggest thing about this game is the way the team responded. At home, at night, and on the heels of a game in which LSU didn't just lose, but lost in a way that challenged who they are as team, LSU came out and played tough, hard-nosed football throughout. The team didn't blink, and won by playing LSU football.
As sloppy as LSU has played, everything is still in play. LSU still controls its own destiny in the SEC and maybe even the national title race. There just no longer is a margin for error. LSU danced right up to the razor's edge tonight, but it came away with the win, and really, that's all that matters. Save the style points for teams who aren't playing back to back top ten teams.
The dream doesn't die until we say it dies. Delusional Optimism, still in the house.