Facing their second straight top ten opponent, 3rd ranked South Carolina invades Baton Rouge today for an SEC showdown against 9th ranked LSU.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks laid a smackdown on Georgia last week, and their reward is traveling to Death Valley to play an angry Fighting Tiger football squad that is coming off a loss in Florida. That's like knocking out Lennox Lewis and turning around to see Evander Holyfield in the other corner waiting for you.
The Gamecocks are now 6-0, and it's their best mark since 1988. The team has won 10 straight games overall, the longest win streak in school history, and its current ranking represents the highest since 1984.
Les Miles' Tigers are also facing their second straight top ten foe. LSU was flirting with disaster for the last couple of weeks, and it finally caught up with them last weekend in Gainesville. Now at 5-1, LSU plunged to ninth in the rankings and will need to run the table the rest of the way and receive help to get back into the BCS race.
The Tigers have dominated this series, holding a 16-2-1 advantage all-time, including a 10-1 mark in Baton Rouge. LSU has also won four straight against South Carolina.
Long gone are Spurrier's days of the "Fun 'n Gun" that he used so effectively with the Gators. South Carolina plays a much more methodical game, relying heavily on a dominant ground game, instead of airing it out. The Gamecocks come into this contest averaging a steady 181.5 yards per game rushing the football, on 4.4 yards per carry.
It helps to have a workhorse in the backfield in the form of All-American Marcus Lattimore. The junior tailback missed half of 2011 with a knee injury, but he has found his way back to the field in 2012. Lattimore is leading the team in rushing and touchdowns. The 6-foot, 218-pounder is also the team's top receiving threat, coming out of the backfield with 18 receptions for 133 yards.
Junior quarterback Connor Shaw has been more of a manager of the offense than a game-changer, connecting on 75.7 percent of his passes, for 733 yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He also adds a running dimension under center, averaging 56 yards per game on the ground.
The South Carolina defense was at its best last week against Georgia, holding the Bulldogs to a meager 224 yards of offense. The Gamecocks rank fourth nationally in scoring defense, 11th in total defense and are tied for the most sacks in the country with 25.
The star on the defensive side of the ball is 6'6" sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney. Last season's SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year, Clowney has picked right up where he left off. He has 25 total tackles this season and ranks second in the SEC in both tackles for loss and sacks.
LSU has put up some big numbers offensively out of conference, but has managed a mere 16 points in its two SEC games thus far. The Tigers have had the majority of their success on the ground this season, ranking fourth in the conference in rushing at 198.3 yards per game. Unfortunately passing the ball is not a strength, with LSU ranking 12th in the SEC at a mere 195.7 yards per game.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has played to mixed reviews thus far, completing 61.8 percent of his passes, for 1,174 yards, with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
The loss of tailback Alfred Blue has not helped the cause; although Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware have tried to fill the void.
The LSU defense remains one of the nation's best; ranking eighth nationally in scoring defense, 15th in rush defense, second in pass defense and third overall.
Linebacker Kevin Minter has been a big part of their success. The junior led LSU with 20 tackles and a forced fumble in the loss to Florida last week and now has a team-high 54 tackles on the year, with 2 sacks.
The front line was supposed to be a dominant force this year, but hyped ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo have yet to deliver big numbers.
If South Carolina holds any advantage, it's their defensive line vs. LSU's offensive line. The Tigers front has not been protecting Mettenberger adequately or opening up running lanes for the stable of backs. If LSU can corral Lattimore, all the pressure will fall squarely on the shoulders of Conner Shaw, who is effective but still has a ways to go to be an elite signal caller in the league.
I expect another hard fought game, and for LSU to come out angry and roaring to go. I see a low scoring battle where the Tigers find just enough to get by.
Prediction: LSU 20, South Carolina 17