With LSU’s 23-21 victory over South Carolina Saturday, we were once again taught college football’s most important lesson: The college football regular season is the best playoff we have in all of sports. A week after many- including this website– tabbed the Gamecocks as a National Championship contender, they are now just the latest team with a loss on their record and on the outside looking in of the BCS title chase.
But while the headline in a lot of places will be “South Carolina lost,” the real story should be about LSU’s epic win. The Tigers- who could do little right against Florida last week- were nearly flawless on Saturday night, especially down the stretch against the Gamecocks. They scored 20 second half points in a wild comeback victory.
And ironically, on a roster full of future NFL Draft picks, it was little known freshman running back Jeremy Hill who had possibly the biggest play of the evening. After an Eric Reid interception gave LSU the ball back with a 16-14 lead and just five minutes to go, Hill broke off a 50-yard touchdown score to put LSU up 23-14. Even after a South Carolina touchdown cut the lead to 23-21, Hill’s score proved to be the difference in the Tigers biggest victory of the season.
Speaking of South Carolina, there’s no other way to put it: This could be the most devastating loss of Steve Spurrier’s time at the school. Sure there have been others, but after their 35-7 beat down of Georgia last week, the Gamecocks had put themselves in a position to not only win the SEC East, but potentially play for a National Championship as well. Instead they are now 6-1, and need a win at Florida next week just to keep their heads above water in the SEC East race. Forget the BCS title game in Miami, South Carolina will now be lucky just to get to the SEC title game in Atlanta.
And no matter how you break it down, this just wasn’t the same South Carolina team we saw last week.
Yes, the Gamecocks played well, especially given the circumstances (on the road, against a Top 10 team). At the same time, if everything went right last week, not nearly as much did this time around. Connor Shaw played his worst game at quarterback with two interceptions, including Reid’s late in the fourth which led to the ultimate game-winning touchdown for LSU. On the other side of the ball, the stout South Carolina defensive line which gave Georgia nightmares last week was largely ineffective Saturday; LSU had over 400 yards of total offense and averaged nearly five yards per run.
Finally, it only does seem appropriate that we wrap up with LSU.
With their loss last week to Florida, and with the injuries piling up one after the other, it would’ve been easy for this club to lay down on Saturday night against South Carolina. They were literally down and figuratively out, with their season slowly slipping out of their fingertips. No one would’ve blamed them if they quit when they fell down Saturday night.
Instead, the Tigers put together their best performance of the season (by far, I might add), and in the process, and did it by bringing back the swagger which they seemed to lose from last season. The LSU team we saw Saturday night was we saw last year; the one that ran the ball right at you with three and four and five running backs, and challenged the opposing defense to step up and stop them. It was also the LSU team that unleashed the dogs on defense, and let their defensive linemen make play after play. That’s certainly what happened Saturday, as they held South Carolina to just 34 yards rushing and sacked Shaw a handful of times as well.
We should also mention that in the same way South Carolina may have temporarily played their way out of the BCS title hunt (in large part depending on how the Florida game goes next week), LSU may have played their way back in.
Yes, they’ve still got a crazy couple weeks ahead with a trip to Texas A&M next Saturday before hosting Alabama on November 3, but at the same time, also control their own destiny in the SEC title race. If they win out, they’re going to Atlanta as the SEC West champs, and if they win in Atlanta, well, as we all know they’ll be right back in the thick of the National Championship chase too.
As a matter of fact, let’s end with this food for thought: As things stand, if LSU and Alabama both win out, their November 3 game will carry more significance now than it did back in August.
Who’da thunk it?
For all his opinion, insight and analysis, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres