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Behind the Box Score: South Carolina

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South Carolina v LSU
Pick six.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

LSU put together its best game of the season, a 52-24 thrashing of South Carolina. OK, they beat Vanderbilt worse, but South Carolina is a far better team, and this is the first game that gives you confidence that the Tigers can compete in the SEC this year.

No, the Gamecocks aren’t the Tide, but they were coming off a win over Auburn last week, which gives LSU a transitive win over the Other Tigers. If South Carolina can beat allegedly good teams, maybe so can LSU. This was hopefully a turning point win.

93. Yards on Trey Palmer’s kickoff return for a touchdown, the first time an LSU player has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Tiger Stadium since Eric Martin in 1981. Of course it happened before a nealy empty stadium.

8/10. LSU’s third down rate. One of the biggest issues for LSU this season so far has been converting third downs. I don’t think there’s been a problem with third downs specifically, but more that LSU has gotten itself behind the sticks and needed big plays to bail itself out on third and longs. Here, LSU kept it at third and manageable for most of the night, and it was reflected in the conversion rate. Put yourself in a position to succeed.

5. LSU sacks. BJ Ojulari was a monster, recording three sacks and narrowly missing out on a fourth only because he tackled the fleeing quarterback forward for a small gain. The pass rush showed up and disrupted the hell out of the South Carolina offense. Seven different LSU players recorded at least a half of a TFL.

3. Eli Ricks tackles. This is notable because Ricks led all LSU defensive backs in tackles, if we count JaCoby Stevens as a linebacker. LSU’s corners and safeties have made a ton of tackles in the first few weeks of the season which is… not a good sign. Defensive backs usually make tackles only when the play has already gone for a huge gain, so seeing Ricks lead the secondary with just three tackles is a sign that the defense didn’t give up quite as many big plays as they had so far. He also added a TFL and a pick six, so… huge night for Ricks.

3. TJ Finley incompletions. OK, its four if you count the pick, but Finley was poised, efficient, and productive. The big worry for a freshman is that the game will be too big or too fast for him, and there was never a moment Finley did not look comfortable. Even his mistake, which cost the team an interception, was quickly cast off and he didn’t wallow in that moment. He bounced right back and threw a touchdown pass on the next possession, and that’s when the game was still in doubt.

37:34. LSU time of possession. You can see that the staff is making a concerted effort to keep the defense off the field and hide the weaker unit. Yes, they were breaking in a freshman QB, but there was a steady diet of runs and clock bleeding even when it was apparent Finley was adjusting to the game just fine. LSU isn’t going back to the days of extreme ball control, but they are making an effort to hold on to the ball to give the defense a blow. Scoring on nearly every possession certainly helps. But LSU’s shortest scoring drive was five plays long and took 1:39. It’s next shortest scoring drive was 9 plays to go 65 yards, taking 4:03 off the clock. LSU had six drives of four minutes or longer. That’s not an accident.

283. LSU rushing yards. On a night in which the LSU quarterback was a big part of the story, the rushing game was quietly awesome. Tyrion Davis-Price rushed for 135 and John Emery for 88. The team averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored 3 touchdowns on the ground, all by different players. All of this with just one run over 20 yards, a 35-yard scamper by Davis-Price. It was a relentless assault.

7.9. South Carolina’s yard per play. After all the good news, let’s take a moment to recognize all ills have not been cured. South Carolina gained 403 yards and averaged 7.9 YPP. And this wasn’t all in garbage time. South Carolina averaged 10.6 yards per pass attempt and 19.5 yards per completion. Good thing they only completed 12 passes. The Gamecocks averaged 5.8 yards per rush, but remember that counts sack yardage. USC’s top two backs ripped through LSU like the defense was made of paper. Kevin Harris ran for 126 yards and 2 TD on just 12 carries, a 10.5 average. Deshaun Fenwick rushed for 49 yards on 7 carries, a 7.0 average. Those two together had a combined line of 19-175-2, for a 9.2 rushing average. Yikes.

0. LSU punts. Zach von Rosenberg’s Ray Guy campaign took the night off.