After a cathartic and long overdue upset win against the Auburn Tigers, the South Carolina Gamecocks will take their surprising two-game winning streak on the road to Baton Rouge on Saturday night. The LSU Tigers are clearly reeling after several key departures from last year’s national championship squad, but the real Death Valley is always a difficult place to play. Here’s how the GABA gang sees it all going down.
Adam: There is so much to consider when trying to predict how this game will shake out. LSU looked to be in real trouble before an inexcusable lack of discipline in Gainesville bailed them out. The postponement of the UF game gave the defending national champions an extra couple of days to rest up and prepare for this weekend’s showdown with the Gamecocks. The circumstances also transformed the meeting into a night game which is never a good thing in Baton Rouge. Advantage LSU. But what will the unexpected bye week buy the Bayou Bengals? Unfortunately, I think the answer is that their defense will improve beyond the atrocious unit we’ve seen so far. LSU’s coaching staff has made it clear that they are going to simplify their defensive schemes in order to eliminate the “who was supposed to be covering that guy!?” moments that we’ve gotten used to seeing from these Tigers. Collin Hill may not have the luxury of throwing to completely uncovered receivers downfield, but a dumbed-down LSU defense does play into the hands of a veteran play-caller like Mike Bobo and his experienced QB. Advantage Gamecocks. On the other side of the ball, it seems more and more likely that LSU will be forced to trot out a true freshman QB to face off against Jaycee Horn, a healthier Mukuamu, and the rest of South Carolina’s stubborn defense. Yikes! LSU’s pass-heavy offense (did I mention that they can’t run the ball?) has been the only thing keeping LSU competitive through three games and you can reasonably expect production to drop off with a true freshman running the show. The only downside from USC’s perspective has been having to strategize for two young quarterbacks with completely different playing styles. Advantage Gamecocks. Lastly, the NCAA’s decision to finally grant WR Jalen Brooks immediate eligibility could not have come at a better time. The good news gives Hill another passing option besides the spectacular Shi Smith. Brooks, who I believe is the 2nd best receiver on the roster, doesn’t even have to make an immediate splash to help South Carolina improve to 3-2 on Saturday. His long-awaited presence will energize his offense and give Bo Pelini a new threat to adjust to on short notice. Advantage Gamecocks. Cocktober belongs to us: 38-27.
Matt: If you asked me a month ago if the Gamecocks had any shot at beating both Auburn AND LSU, I would have laughed at the possibility. Fast forward to the present where South Carolina has the worst Auburn team in years and an LSU team without their starting quarterback on their schedule. Yeah, they’ve been thrown a massive bone by the college football gods, but they still have to cash in. Winning three straight games against anyone for the Cocks has been a challenge, so this game isn’t going to be easy. With the COVID bye week LSU got, they had time to fix their defense in preparation for this game, which needs to happen if they want any chance of winning without their starting quarterback. Give a well-run team more time than usual to prepare for a team, and I start sweating. Also, a night game in Baton Rouge shouldn’t bode too well for USC. I’ll take the Tigers in a shootout 38-35.
Katie: The Eternal Sports Optimist was #blessed last weekend and I’m looking for a repeat experience on Saturday night. Predicting two big wins in a row would be a gutsy move, except that my role here is to bring endless THEY COULD THEORETICALLY WIN energy for every game, and I won’t be shirking my responsibility now. The Tigers having to start a true freshman at QB could be an advantage for the Gamecocks, or it could make him an instant household name because South Carolina is all too often an overly giving team when it comes to getting guys accolades. NONE OF THAT NEGATIVITY THO, I’m sure the defense will do its thing and the offense will know how to catch passes when they’re thrown and run the dang ball otherwise.
Kody: I’m going to echo Matt a bit here and say that I’m a little concerned about LSU’s de facto bye week, and even the fact they’re starting a freshman quarterback is a little unsettling. How many times have we seen the Gamecocks play the role of kingmaker for a first-time starter or little-known backup? The game time getting moved to a night kick in Baton-Rouge ain’t great, either. But I do think South Carolina, through all its ups and downs this season, has shown that it can certainly compete with LSU, which has inarguably been more down in this very weird season. There’s also, as Adam mentioned, the x-factor of Jalen Brooks finally being cleared to play. It’s too much to expect him to single-handedly turn the receiver corps around, but we desperately need a more reliable weapon next to Shi and he could be just that. LSU’s defense has shown it could be ripe for the taking (how bizarre is that?), and I anticipate some back-and-forth in this one. I’ll go South Carolina, 31-28, if only because this team seems to have found something that works lately.