Curtis Taylor, Harry Coleman, and Chris Hawkins celebrate Taylor's clinching interception
OK, maybe "clinching" is too strong of a word, but the interception combined with a couple of first downs on the subsequent possession combined to clinch the win.
I'll be honest and say that at halftime I was pretty far down on the team. The Gamecocks were moving the ball well. Our offense had missed some opportunities, and then made some costly mistakes towards the end of the half. The big interception was one mistake, but there was also the Lee fumble and the Lafell drop.
I was feeling pretty low. I thought we did not look spirited. We looked slow and sluggish, like we were still experiencing a hangover from last week's loss. South Carolina discovered a new hole in our coverage by dragging a tight end short across the middle of the field, and we did not seem to have an answer for it.
On watching it again, though, it was not that bad. We really only had a bad 6 or 7 minutes, not a bad half. Except for that last stretch that ended the first half, we had been the better team. We had run the ball effectively and had some semblance of a passing game, though with some bad drops.
In the second half, though, the team really came alive. We made halftime adjustments to cover the tight end (we treated him like a wide receiver and covered him with a corner or a nickel) and to get more pressure, and we adjusted our offense to better utilize the 2-quarterback system.
Saturday night was the first time I've seen LSU use a true 2-quarterback system in which it actually seemed to take advantage of the strengths of both without magnifying the weaknesses of either. We didn't sell out the run when Hatch was in the game, and we didn't tip off a pass when Lee was in the game. We didn't get delay penalties or use timeouts to avoid a penalty. It worked really well.
If we hadn't been playing one of the toughest defenses in the conference, we would have scored 4 touchdowns in the second half and it would have been a blowout. give credit where it's due. The South Carolina defense is an excellent unit. They have been all season. Here is a list of the number of points South Carolina has given up in each game this year: 0, 24, 14, 13, 13, 24, 17, 24. That's 1 shutout, 4 other teams held to 17 or below, and no one getting more than 24 points.
No team has been able to look like an offensive powerhouse against them, because they have excellent players at all three levels of the defense and they've remained pretty healthy all year. If they had an offense, they'd be one of the best teams in the conference. We scored as many points against them as anyone has, and we had as great of a margin of victory over them as anyone has as well. They've lost some tough games, but they've made all of the games tough, including this one.
Like I said before, this won't go down as an epic win, but this is a solid win for this team, especially coming off such an embarrassing loss. And if we avoid that one big mistake we keep making, this game could have had a much bigger margin of victory.
Anyway, I didn't want to just reprise thoughts from last night, I want to get in some observations I made on second viewing:
- In the second half, Patrick Peterson seemed to get more snaps at right corner than Jai Eugene did. Eugene had that one big error that could have cost us (if not for a poor throw and a subsequent inability to make a tough catch), but he's played pretty well this year, in my opinion. The problems on the defense don't seem to be in any way attributable to him as far as I can tell. Maybe Peterson just beat him out. Or maybe it was a matchup thing.
- Also in the second half, Danny McCray played sparingly, and Chad Jones seemed to get most of the snaps as the nickel back.
- We spent what I would consider an inordinate number of snaps in the base 4-3 defense in the second half, considering we knew South Carolina was passing on virtually every play. We were probably in base defense about half the time and nickel the other half. I don't think I ever noticed us in dime.
- Once again, Harry Coleman played a pretty solid game. I really think Coleman and the corners have played well all year. The problems in pass defense appear to me to be due to misplays by the free safety (Curtis Taylor), the linebackers, and the nickel/dime backs. Strangely enough, Taylor and the nickel/dime players were the most experienced players in the secondary at the start of the season, and they seem to be the ones who get beat or caught out of position the most
- Offensively, I think we saw the return of the running back by committee approach. All three tailbacks played substantial snaps, and no one got the majority of the calls. Early in the season, Scott had the hot hand, but he was stoned against Florida, and South Carolina decided to key on Scott when he was in the tailback spot, limiting his effectiveness. They seemed unprepared for what Keiland Williams brought, and honestly he brought more than he'd brought in any previous game. He ran hard and didn't wait over-long for holes to open up like he has in previous games. Maybe he's back to being the effective Keiland Williams he was last year.
- We had solid if unspectacular special teams play in this game. Colt David hit a long field goal. Josh Jasper had a touchback and made most of his other kickoffs unreturnable. Brady Dalfrey did a nice job of keeping South Carolina pinned back in the third quarter. We had not breakouts on returns, but no misplays either. Special teams neither won this game for us, nor did they hurt us in any noticeable way.
- In a battle of two teams, one of which has been unable to protect the ball or protect the quarterback, and the other of which has been unable to force turnovers or get pressure, the team that had previously been unable to get pressure or force turnovers won out, by getting pressure and turnovers. Let's hope that wasn't just a byproduct of playing South Carolina. We need to continue to pressure the quarterback and continue to force turnovers or we won't get very much farther.