Football Preview: South Carolina at LSU

USC Gamecocks

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – The Gamecocks are going for their third win in a row as they get ready for a road contest against LSU on Saturday. 

South Carolina 

The Gamecocks have won two in a row after a 30-22 upset over Auburn. SC exorcised some demons last week, beating the Tigers for the first time since 1933, and are looking to carry that momentum into Baton Rouge. 

Kevin Harris has been the catalyst for this offense over the past several weeks. Averaging five yards per carry, Harris has provided a consistent ground game in Mike Bobo’s balanced attack. After two straight one-hundred yard games, Harris was held to 83 against Auburn, but found the end zone twice including a late third quarter touchdown to put the Gamecocks up eight. 

Deshuan Fenwick continues to be a solid complement to Harris, and has been a factor as a receiver out of the backfield as well. 

The ground game improvement has contributed greatly to the win streak SC is putting together. In the first two games Collin Hill attempted 39 and 47 passes, respectively. The Gamecocks’ game script was such that they got away from the run earlier than they would want to, and thus played into their opponents’ hands. But in the past two games Hill has attempted 24 passes, completed an average of 64% of his passes, and helped lead a very balanced attack to victory. This is the formula that will lead to success for South Carolina. 

We all know by now how impactful Shi Smith has been in the receiving corps. A reliable third down option, Smith leads the team in receptions by nearly triple the number. And he’s the only receiver to record a touchdown this season (3). A big addition to the unit comes in the form of Jalen Brooks, who was cleared by the NCAA for action this week. His presence will be a welcome sight for the Gamecocks, who get an immediate deep threat opposite Smith. Brooks, at 6’3” 190 pounds, can win the 50/50 balls and make the difficult catches. Whether or not he’ll see significant time on the field this week is yet to be determined, but moving forward the Gamecocks have a great piece to add to the unit. That being said, others such as Josh Vann and Xavier Leggette are going to need to step up and become more involved as teams continue to key in on Smith as the season progresses. 

The defense has been fantastic in situational football this year, surrendering just a 27.7% third down conversion rate to opposing offenses, and coming up with red zone stops. Their rushing defense is in the top-25 with their passing defense not far behind. With an offense that averages 33 minutes of time of possession, the defense has been well-rested and opportunistic in key moments. 

Up until last week South Carolina had been struggling to create turnovers, but the defense came up huge against No. 15 Auburn, hauling in three interceptions of Bo Nix. The Gamecocks were set up with great field position, and the defense continued to stymie the Tigers’ momentum. Jaycee Horn showed why he’s one of the best corners in college football, and Kingsley Enagbare continued to be a force along the line, grabbing his fourth sack of the season. Keir Thomas is playing great in his senior season, and the same goes for linebacker Ernest Jones. With how poor defenses have been in the SEC this year, the Gamecocks are establishing themselves as one of the best, if not the best in the league. 

LSU

These are not your 2019 LSU Tigers. This year the team has had to endure the departures of several key components in their national championship run, most notably Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. But even despite the several players lost, LSU has still fallen below expectations to many through three games. 

Starting with quarterback Myles Brennan (#15), who’s been thrust into a pass-happy offense to start his junior season. With over forty pass attempts per game this season, Brennan has racked up a lot of yards and touchdowns as well, but the team overall has struggled. And he has had his issues with accuracy, though he’s only thrown three total interceptions including a two-turnover outing in the opener against Mississippi State. The big question for the Tigers this week is: will Brennan play? The junior suffered an abdominal injury last week in the team’s loss to Missouri, and Head Coach Ed Orgeron stated on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the quarterback will be able to play. If that were the case, LSU would have to choose between two true freshmen to be their signal caller against the Gamecocks: T.J. Finley or Max Johnson. Both have no experience running a college offense, and would likely be a huge advantage for the South Carolina defense.  Head Coach Will Muschamp discussed how the team is preparing for either quarterback below:

The running game has been quite underwhelming as the Tigers have elected to pass far more often. Their leading rusher, John Emery Jr. (#4), has just 137 yards on the ground this year. His counterpart, Tyrion Davis-Price (#3), has added 110 yards. Price leads the team in rushing attempts, but Emery has been the effective back through three games. His 6.5 yards per carry are by far the best on the team while both have a touchdown each. Emery is also the primary pass catcher out of the backfield while Price is reserved for between the tackles. 

Terrace Marshall Jr. (#6) is the team’s top target. He leads the team with 21 catches for 424 yards and an impressive seven touchdowns so far, averaging more than two scores per game. At 6’3” he’s another big target for the Gamecocks to contend with. 

The team hasn’t had a problem scoring points as they average over 38 points per game. But defensively, they’re allowing 32 points per game, ranked 50th in the FBS. They’ve relied on winning the shootouts, but so far it’s been a tough road. While they’ve surrendered a lot of yards through the air, the LSU defense has corralled nine turnovers so far, putting them top ten in college football. And they’ve done so in one or two fewer games than most. But their third down defense is among the worst in the FBS. Linebacker Jabril Cox (#19) is one of their better run defenders, and leads the team in tackles for loss. Several top defensive prospects from last year are now in the NFL, but one key returner is cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (#24), one of the better DB’s in the country. Shi Smith may be seeing plenty of Stingley on Saturday, so that will be a matchup to watch closely. 

Matchup

South Carolina is set up well against the Tigers this Sunday. They get a potential break in having to face a true freshman making his first start at quarterback, but on top of that they match up well with LSU. The Gamecocks have run the ball well and dominated time of possession. Their slow, methodical approach could impede LSU’s rhythm and momentum. The Tigers want to play fast and score quick, but the Gamecocks can slow them down and control the tempo. 

The SC secondary is finding its groove, and it comes just in time as they can feast on a very young Tiger offense. But they’ll have to contend with a talented receiving corps. And there’s also a risk when playing a quarterback you have no film on. If the quarterback airs it out from the start, the Gamecocks will have to button up and not get taken off guard. They should be able to win the line of scrimmage with a defensive line can take advantage of an injury riddled offensive line.

Given the productivity of Kevin Harris, and smart passing from Hill, South Carolina could be looking at a third-straight win. 

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