With a struggling team forced to go on the road due to the devastating flooding in the Midlands, South Carolina's chances heading into its game at LSU looked slim. However, Carolina kept things close in the first half with a kickoff returned for a TD by Rashad Fenton and a better-than-expected job defending LSU's formidable running game. Led by Heisman hopeful and all-around good human being Leonard Fournette, the Tigers were expected to maul the Gamecocks on the ground, but that didn't happen until this big play by Fournette to begin the second half:
What changed on the play? You'll notice that LSU lures Carolina into a nickel defense by lining up with three wide. This defensive look was a departure from the loaded fronts Jon Hoke used in the first half to slow Fournette down. LSU gets some good blocking up front, with the Carolina safeties the first to have an opportunity to stop the runner. After Isaiah Johnson and especially Jordan Diggs whiff on the tackle, it's off to the races for Fournette, who also benefits from the Heisman treatment when the refs allow an egregiously obvious hold on T.J. Holloman to go uncalled.
While the nickel look is theoretically sensible given LSU's spread look, it's obvious in hindsight that this offensive look on second-and-seven was designed to vacate the middle of the field and to give Fournette room to work. That's why I feel Hoke should put one of the two safeties over the top of the slot receiver and maintained the heavy fronts. LSU QB Brandon Harris played well against Carolina, but I feel you have to set up your defense to stop Fournette first and foremost when playing LSU, as he's by far their greatest asset and the player who Les Miles wants to have the ball when at all possible.
This play also illustrates the most glaring example of personnel mismanagement on the defensive side of the ball, the lack of snaps given to D.J. Smith, who has performed well when given the opportunity. Smith deserves an opportunity to play over the struggling Jordan Diggs, who has not shined this season after moving from spur to safety.
To be sure, the offense didn't do the defense any favors in this game by being unable to stay on the field for most of the contest, but the evidence continues to mount that Steve Spurrier made a disastrously poor decision when he chose to hire Hoke as a stop-gap instead of completely overhauling the defensive staff.