The old expression that the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Tonight, LSU stopped digging.
It wasn’t perfect. There are still huge problems with the football team that are obvious to just about everyone, but this was a night that LSU showed it can do good things as well. This whole season doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom.
Maybe, just 50%.
The biggest stretch of the game, the moment it seemed like a different LSU team, was in the final five minutes of the first half. LSU had a seven-point lead and the ball near midfield. On 3rd and 5, LSU didn’t want to give the ball back to the Gamecocks, and give them a chance to tie the game that LSU had been largely in control of.
Orgeron called timeout, the time talked it over, and made the right decision to dial up the Touchdown Play. TJ Finley found Terrace Marshall over the middle and Marshall did the rest. South Carolina moved to respond, but Eli Ricks intercepted a Collin Hill pass and returned it for a touchdown.
What had been in danger of giving the ball back to South Carolina with a chance to tie, three plays later was now a three-touchdown LSU lead. It was the kind of ruthless neck stomping that this team has lacked all season.
Now, South Carolina didn’t do the polite thing and stop trying. They would even respond right away, quickly driving down to the LSU 17, only to have Parker White miss a short field goal. Speaking of guys with rough nights, Parker White would miss three kicks on the night, two of them from 40 and in.
The Gamecocks then scored on the opening possession of the second half, at least making the Tiger faithful a little nervous. On the ensuing kickoff, Trey Palmer fumbled the ball on the return, which usually portends disaster. Instead, he calmly picked up the ball, gathered himself, and ripped through the coverage unit for a 95 yard touchdown return. It was the first LSU kickoff return for a TD in Tiger Stadium since Eric Martin did it in 1981.
And then the rout was on on.
The biggest thing for LSU was that TJ Finley looked great as a true freshman in his first start. He threw for 265 yards on 17/21 passing and 2 TD. Even his mistakes turned out pretty well. Finley prevented a pick six by running down the guy who had the audacity to intercept his pass. Even more impressively for a freshman QB, he bounced right back and threw a TD pass on the next drive. He didn’t get stuck in that bad moment, something that has happened to other young LSU quarterbacks who made a bad mistake.
So the question is now... is TJ Finley the starter? What does this mean for Myles Brennan? From a program standpoint, this is one of those good problems. That said, as much as I love Myles Brennan for sticking by LSU for so long... he has a torn abdomen muscle. Spend the year healing up, and then enter the portal to finish up your career somewhere else, and maybe audition for the NFL. It’s Finley’s job now.
LSU stopped messing about and fed the ball to the running backs fairly heavily, and John Emery responded by rushing for 88 yards on 18 carries. Ty Davis-Price kept that competition going by rushing for 135 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, though it does seem he’s a step below on the pecking order despite better numbers. And Emery did finally get his touchdown on a leaping score in the fourth quarter.
The defense? Well, it gaveth and it tooketh away. First off, BJ Ojulari was a monster on the line, notching three sacks. But we also had the same coverage breakdowns and glut of huge plays allowed. The difference was, LSU made enough big plays to counteract those breakdowns, and even strung together whole defensive series.
LSU prevented this game from turning into a track meet. The offense did its part by scoring on eight of its first nine full drives (so not counting the one to close the first half), but it also did so by eating clock and keeping the defense off the field. The defense was only asked to make a few stops all game, and they came through.
It’s not 2007 or anything, but it was progress. The defense looked like they knew where to be and they gave 100% effort. Which is a low bar, but at least they cleared it. the defensive issues are a far way from being solved, but they didn’t torpedo the team tonight, and that might be as good as it gets in 2020.
The offense more than upheld its end of the bargain. By the start of the fourth quarter, this game was already over, when South Carolina failed to convert a fourth down on the first play of the final frame. It was a nice change of pace.