WAILP, its funny how things work out. LSU lost one home game, and 10 years after playing one in an opponent's stadium, the shoe is on the other foot for the Tigers as South Carolina is now coming to Tiger Stadium as the home team.
But a game is still a game and LSU will have to be ready.
What to Watch For on Saturday
I'm particularly proud of how LSU has stepped up to do what they can for folks in South Carolina, with welcoming billboards, a charter sent for the SC team, the Golden Band playing their alma mater, etc...
But I'm hoping that hospitality doesn't extend to the Tigers themselves.
LSU has played two straight unfocused, ugly games against teams that aren't as talented as South Carolina (Syracuse may actually be a better team, but I don't think they can match talent). The penalties and the drops that allowed those games to be close are not things the Tigers can afford. SC has been adrift the last few weeks, and will be starting Perry Orth, a third-string, walk-on quarterback that isn't completing half of his passes this season.
Still, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper might be the best all-purpose playmaker in the SEC. Similar to Randall Cobb during his Kentucky days, Cooper will catch passes, run the ball, return kicks and even take some snaps at quarterback. Likewise freshman Lorenzo Nunez will be available for when Spurrier needs some ball plays. Running backs Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are solid, veteran players that have had some success in this league. I'm pretty sure Wilds took handoffs from Phil Petty back in the day. And Tight end Jerrell Adams is one of the better-kept secrets in the league as well.
So what's that mean?
Carolina has motivation with everything going on, and will surely come out with some emotion, so a fast start will be key. But it won't be enough. With a partial crowd the pressure will be much lower on the other team if things get tight and they start to believe they can win this.
The pressure is going to have to come from the Tigers themselves.
The Gamecocks have the ultimate "us against the world" motivational tact here, and you can bet they try to take a wild swing early on.
ODB, OBC, same difference.
LSU deserves to be favored heavily here, and is absolutely the superior and more talented football team.
And yet...that smirking little elvish bastard is over there on the Gamecock sidelines, and that makes me think twice.
Look, Steve Spurrier is undoubtedly in the twilight of his hall-of-fame career, and the second act is arguably his finest. He took what was, for most of my memory, the absolute losing-est, like-even-lower-than-Vanderbilt SEC program and made them a consistent winner. Even got them to Atlanta (HAI OLE MISS). Yeah, it looks like the end, and yeah it doesn't look pretty.
But the smirk is still there, and the brain is still behind it. Spurrier's teams might not be able to beat the best anymore, but I don't doubt for a second that he still knows how. And if LSU gives him an opening, he's going to have a ball play ready to go.
His South Carolina offenses have been much more run-oriented than the ol' Fun & Gun days, but some of the principles are still there. Spurrier's Florida offenses specialized in taking what the defense gave. Stack the box, they threw deep against the single coverage. Keep the safeties back, they ran the ball. Off coverage, here come hitches and slants. Roll the corners up, and its double-moves and fade routes.
The Gamecocks will run out of the spread, mix in some zone-read and option, POP passes, screens, etc...It's not fancy, but if you give it to them they'll take it. Orth is going to get the start, with Nunez banged up and is...less than impressive. But Spurrier left an opening for Nunez to come in situationally. Which brings us back to that smirk. And you can bet Cooper will get some action at QB as well, if the opportunity presents itself.
Of course, we're all more interested in how LSU's offense performs. Well, a portion of it anyway.
The running game should be fine. South Carolina's defense is kind of undersized and more of a downhill/pursuit type of group -- I.E., the kind that an offense like LSU can grind up on the ground. There shouldn't be much of a problem running Leonard Fournette right at them. They seem to be a little vulnerable to misdirection at times as well, so bringing back the jet sweep motion would probably be a good idea.
The passing game, is what I think we're all wondering about, and it's the area where I don't really have a clear answer yet. I do think that it's time to give players like Trey Quinn and Tyron Johnson some more reps out at receiver. They've been doing a lot of grunt work on special teams. I'm not necessarily calling for a wholesale benching of Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, but this offense can't wait around for them to figure out whatever funk they've been in the last two weeks.
Do NOT Expect
All the Answers
As far as ending that funk, I wouldn't expect a total turnaround right away. Honestly, I'm not totally sure what they are myself.
There's a different feel to this from other seasons, in that I feel somewhat confident in the quarterback. Brandon Harris hasn't been perfect, but he's looked poised and confident, and has yet to really make a BAD decision. He may need to be coached to lay up a bit at times and not try to push the ball deep EVERY time the matchup is there, but there's a balance to that. Can't have him playing timid either, especially with that arm.
Likewise, there's a balance towards dealing with the problems at wide receiver as well, particularly the drops. It's almost like a kicker missing short kicks -- if you get the player so focused on not screwing up, not dropping the ball, it gets in their head and then you've got a case of the yips. And Dural and Dupre are too talented for something like that to happen.
That said, things have to change there. There can't be these concentration or effort lapses. LSU would be smart to bring them along somewhat slowly, maybe even start with the running game on jet sweeps. Anything that can build confidence. Get them in a situation that can give them some results and just break the tension.
Likewise, the backs could be a nice matchup this week. I'm a little reticent about tight ends because Skai Moore can be a heck of a playmaker in coverage. That said, some bootlegs and other motion passes could be useful when SC brings pressure through the A-gap, which has been a bit of a tendency. Anything that can put the ball on the edge quickly is a mismatch versus that blitz.
Spurrier brought in one of his former Florida coordinators to help out, John Hoke, who likes to mix up his coverages a bit and try to fool quarterbacks. LSU would be wise to make sure they stay on schedule and avoid third-and-long situations where Hoke can really cut loose.