The South Carolina Gamecocks put on an absolute clinic on how not to win a football game, failing miserably in all three phases of the game in a 52-24 loss to the host LSU Tigers on Saturday night.
LSU got off to a hot start with true freshman quarterback T.J. Finley at the reins, leaning on its running game to get deep into Gamecock territory and converting a crucial fourth down in the red zone to keep a promising drive alive. A South Carolina fumble recovery on a botched exchange at the 1-yard line was wiped away for an offside penalty, and yet ANOTHER fumbled exchange recovered by the Gamecocks was once again taken off the board for an offsides. The Tigers finally found the end zone on the ensuing play, grabbing a 7-0 lead on a Finley sneak to cap off a drive that ate almost half the first quarter.
The Gamecocks got to work on the first play of their possession, with Shi Smith picking up 36 yards on a jet sweep. After a holding penalty backed South Carolina up, Kevin Harris made it moot with a 45-yard touchdown rush to tie the game at 7.
LSU went right back at it, though, mixing in some runs with the short passing game (and using some Gamecock penalties) to knock on the door once again. The South Carolina defense held on a pass breakup in the end zone by Jaycee Horn, with LSU taking a 10-7 lead near the close of the first quarter.
Unfortunately, the Gamecocks went on a rapid fire three-and-out to close the first stanza, ending on a massive Collin Hill sack. LSU continued to gash the South Carolina defense to start the second quarter, with the Gamecocks failing to generate any pressure on Finley and allowing the rookie to get even more comfortable in the short passing game. The Tigers capitalized, tossing a 7-yard fade to Terrace Marshall to put LSU up 17-7.
After a 44-yard bomb to Keveon Mullins to open the Gamecocks’ next drive, South Carolina did nothing but go backwards, taking two bad sacks and then a false start penalty. Parker White was sent out for a 54-yard field goal try, but despite his right-down-the-middle accuracy, it fell just short.
Thankfully, Israel Mukuamu announced his return to the field in a major way on the next LSU possession, picking off Finley and returning it for 56 yards to set the Gamecocks up in good shape. However, South Carolina stalled out once again, forcing another field goal try for White, which he sent through the uprights to make it 17-10.
The Tigers got the Gamecocks right back, though, taking advantage of poor tackling on a 51-yard Marshall reception to go up 24-10. Things only got worse on the next South Carolina possession, when Hill threw a pick-six to Eli Ricks to put the Tigers up 31-10 just before halftime. To make matters even worse, White missed a 34-yard field goal, and the Gamecocks ended the stanza on a low note.
South Carolina got off to a good start in the second half, however, recognizing that the run game was actually effective and letting Harris and Deshaun Fenwick go to work (along with a nice carry from freshman quarterback Luke Doty). Harris finally got in the end zone on third-and-goal, pushing the Gamecocks to within 31-17.
However, in what was emblematic of this game, the Tigers returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown despite botching the catch, going back up 38-17 in the blink of an eye. The Gamecocks responded with another bomb to Mullins, immediately knocking on the the Tigers’ door with a 57-yard reception. But after Hill took yet another drive-killing sack, the Gamecocks elected to kick another field goal, and White was wide left from 40 yards to keep the score at 38-17.
Tyrion-Davis Price made matters worse with a 4-yard rushing score on LSU’s next possession, staking the Tigers to a 45-17 lead with a few minutes left in the third quarter. John Emery Jr. added to the pain midway through the fourth quarter after more offensive (and defensive) ineptitude from the Gamecocks, making it 52-17 Tigers.
South Carolina got back on the board with a Josh Vann touchdown reception to make the margin 52-24, which stood as the final score after LSU subbed in backups and ran the clock down,
The Gamecocks fall to 2-3 and will get a much-needed bye this weekend before facing No. 7 Texas A&M in Columbia at 7:30 p.m.