South Carolina Gamecocks at LSU Tigers: Five Keys and Prediction

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This is my preview post for this weekend's game. I apologize for not doing more previews this week, but I'm going to put a little extra love into this one to make up for negligent behavior.

This may go without saying, but this is a huge game. On the one hand, we could lose this game and still fulfill all of our pre-season goals. Barring disaster against Tennessee or Arkansas, we win the East if we beat Florida in the Swamp, and that will give us a chance to win our first SEC Championship in Atlanta. After last weekend, though, you'll have to excuse me if my interest has been stoked in a bigger prize. If we can figure out a way to beat both LSU and Florida, we'll go to Atlanta with a trip to the BCS National Title Game on the line. That's what's at stake this weekend in Red Stick.

Here are my keys to this game, in no particular order:

5. Stop the Run

Given LSU's woes in the passing game, Carolina is almost certainly going to defend from a Cover One scheme and pin its ears back to stop the run. This strategy worked in spades last week against a significantly more balanced offense than the one we're about to face, so I see little reason to believe it won't work here. The key is to make it impossible for LSU to run while also keeping the Tigers from hitting big passing plays down field. Last week, Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton played a magnificent game against the Georgia receivers. That needs to happen again here. If it does, things will get even better if we can...

4. Pressure the QB

LSU's banged-up offensive line has struggled all season to protect Zach Mettenberger, a QB who is basically a statue. Mett needs tons of time to throw and does a very poor job of sensing pressure. Things are getting even worse for the Tigers now, as LSU suffered another spate of injuries in a physical contest last weekend against Florida. After watching the Gamecocks' defensive line notch a jaw-dropping performance last weekend against Georgia, this certainly has the feel of a game where we're going to be able to dominate LSU's offensive front. Particularly if Carolina is able to stop the run, we should have ample opportunities to tee off on Mettenberger and hopefully create some turnovers against the fumble-prone QB.

3. Special Teams Play

Obviously, Ace Sanders's punt return last week was the highlight on special teams, and maybe the highlight of the game. Needless to say, it would be great to see some more of Ace's magic against LSU. However, what really concerns me on special teams is giving up the potential big play. We've come very close to giving up a kickoff TD. I'd really like to see us top the strategy of kicking it inside the five. Yeah, it's great when we do that against ECU and stuff their return man on the 10, but it's not so pretty when we try it against teams with dangerous return teams. Against LSU, I'd prefer that kick it out the back of the end zone and let Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor go to work on Mettenberger.

I'm also concerned that the Mad Hatter is going to have a few choice plays drawn up for his special teams units. Carolina needs to be very careful at all times on special teams when LSU has the ball. An early onsides kick, a fake punt, or a fake FG are almost certainly in the works for this game. Miles's back is against the wall here, and he'll pull out all the stops to get the win, particularly knowing that his offense is going to struggle. Gotta nip that in the bud when it happens.

Last thing on special teams is that we're playing a team that's going to make it tough to score in the red zone. Adam Yates needs to make his kicks if he gets in there. Every point will be crucial in this game.

2. More Great Play from Carolina's Offensive Line

Last week was probably the most impressive game we've seen from the offensive line during Spurrier's tenure. Against a loaded Georgia defensive front, Carolina had no trouble opening holes Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles, and it did an excellent job of protecting Connor Shaw. We'll need even more of that this week against LSU, who has an even better defensive front and tons of defensive speed in general. Things aren't going to come easily on offense in this game, and this might be the game where Lattimore and Connor Shaw have to strap it up and fight for yardage in the rushing game. They'll need the big guys up front to open holes if they're to do that. I hope the passing game opens up, too, but I also think we're going to have to work the short passes hard against LSU. There's not a team in the country that can hold a clean pocket for long against LSU's defensive ends.

1. Take the Crowd Out of the Game

Carolina has played well in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium, but what happens here when the tables are turned and Carolina is in front of a rabid, hostile crowd? That's one of the big questions in this game. Not to say that we can't win a close one late, but it would be far preferable to find a way to take the crowd out of this game early. It's going to be hard to go up 21-0 in the first quarter against this kind of defense, but some really solid defensive play and a couple of clock-churning drives over the course of the first half will help a lot. It will also help to shut down whatever trickery Miles has up his sleeve. That place will be going bonkers if they score a special teams touchdown, or maybe something off a flea-flicker.

Prediction

Pre-season, I didn't think we would have much of a chance in this game. Now, I frankly think we're the better team. The two teams are probably roughly equivalent on defense, with a slight advantage perhaps going to LSU based on its secondary, but I'm not even sure of that any longer, considering how well Hampton and Legree played last week. Offensively, there's little question right now that we're the better team, particularly with all the injuries LSU has suffered on the offensive line.

The only question is whether we can get it done in a night game in Baton Rouge. It's absolutely imperative that we make good decisions here. The place is going to be loud. Shaw and company have won in these kinds of environments before, but never against a team this good. The good news, though, is that this team has tons of leadership, and these guys are going to help the youngsters make sure they're mentally prepared. This is going to be a tough game, but I don't think LSU is going to be able to generate much offense against us, and we'll get enough done offensively to win. I'm going to go with Carolina, 17-10.

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