USC-LSU preview: Home on the Bayou
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What: South Carolina (2-3, 0-3) at LSU (4-0, 2-0)
Where: Tiger Stadium (102,321), Baton Rouge, La.
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: ESPN ((Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich); Gamecock Radio Network, 107.5 FM In Columbia (Todd Ellis, Tommy Suggs, Langston Moore); Sirius 83/XM 190.
The catastrophic floods that struck Columbia last weekend forced the relocation of USC's scheduled home game against LSU to the Bayou inside one of the loudest venues in all of college football. Not the best recipe for the Gamecocks to turn around their season. USC has a new starting quarterback (Perry Orth) and Brandon Wilds is supposed to return from injury. But the story of this game is whether the USC defense will be able to contain LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who is expected to get the ball early and often for LSU, which needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive. LSU doesn't lose often at Tiger Stadium.
USC OFFENSE v. LSU DEFENSE:
Along with his inclination for running out of the pocket too quickly, a sprained shoulder suffered by freshman Lorenzo Nunez last Saturday at Missouri has shoved redshirt junior Perry Orth back into the starting lineup.
Orth completed 2-of-5 passes for 14 yards at Missouri filling in for Nunez in the fourth quarter, one week after he went 0-for-3 in a brief appearance against UCF. Orth has some mobility, but his running skills lag behind Nunez's by a wide margin.
Orth made his first career start at Georgia and completed 6-of-17 passes for 66 yards with an interception before being replaced by Nunez. For the season, he is 23-of-47 (48.9 percent) for 283 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Spurrier hasn't ruled out playing Nunez at some point in the game - or third stringer Michael Scarnecchia, for that matter - putting two or three quarterbacks within the realm of possibility. But here's the key question: if Nunez is healthy enough to play, then the decision to start Orth is based less about Nunez's shoulder and more upon his reluctance to throw the ball and run the play as called.
Remember, Spurrier made the same complaint about Connor Shaw when he was a sophomore in 2011. Shaw, of course, used the criticism as motivation as he developed into a very good passer. Will Nunez do the same thing?
Besides a change at quarterback, the USC running game should get a boost from the return of Brandon Wilds, who has the size and speed the Gamecock coaches crave to run between the tackles and likewise gain yards on the perimeter.
The 6-2, 220-pounder rambled for 106 yards on 16 carries against Kentucky, his fifth career 100-yard rushing game. The following week, he was limited to just five carries for 24 yards against Georgia before leaving with bruised ribs. Wilds is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season and 5.0 for his career.
The USC offensive line struggled at Missouri last weekend and now it will have its hands full trying to block an LSU defensive front featuring plenty of freakish athletes.
Defensively, the Tigers have yet to allow a first quarter point and are holding opponents to 293.5 total yards per game (106 rushing, 187.5 passing). LSU is giving up 21.5 points a game. Cornerback Tre'Davious White (17 tackles, 2 PBUs) and DT Davon Godchaux (18 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) are the defensive leaders for LSU.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Perry Orth, RB Brandon Wilds, WR Pharoh Cooper, LT Brandon Shell, RT Mason Zandi.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DT Davon Godchaux, DT Christian LaCouture, DE Tashawn Bower, MIKE Kendall Beckwith, CB Tre'Davious White.
KEY MATCHUP: LT Brandon Shell vs. DE Tashawn Bower.
Come support the Tigers and Gamecocks. Tickets are on sale now to the general public: http://t.co/jDC31UDcOh pic.twitter.com/o4snQ0xxFp- LSU Football (@LSUfball) October 8, 2015
LSU OFFENSE vs. USC DEFENSE:
Yep, LSU coach Les Miles, a former offensive lineman, LOVES to run the football. Through four games, LSU has run the ball a staggering 75 percent of the time (186 rushes; 248 plays) this season. In 136 games under Miles, LSU's success is easy to predict when it comes to net rushing yards.
When the Tigers eclipse 100 yards rushing, LSU is 102-12 under Miles when that happens. Hold the opponent to fewer than 100 yards and the Tigers are 60-5. An even more telling stat? When LSU rushes for 100-plus yards and holds the opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground, LSU is a perfect 59-0 under Miles.
Of course, when you have a running back as talented as Leonard Fournette, you run the ball and run the ball and run the ball. Then, for good measure, run the ball some more. Carrying a streak of three straight 200-yard games, Fournette, already named SEC Offensive Player of the Week three times this season, has emerged as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and he will undoubtedly be looking to add to his Heisman credentials on Saturday.
Meaning, watch out.
The universal message from USC defensive coaches and players this week on how to contain Fournette was simple: gang tackle and play error-free football at the point of attack. In short, few defenders are able to bring down the 6-fooit-1, 230-pound Fournette by themselves. It usually takes two or three tacklers, at least, to bring down Fournette, whose 864 rushing yards are the most by an LSU player through four games in school history and the most by any FBS player through four games since at least 2000.
LSU's rushing attack is so productive the Tigers barely must think about throwing the football. Quarterback Brandon Harris has attempted just 62 passes in four games - an average of 15.5 per game - and has thrown for 382 yards, less than 100 yards per game. LSU has 14 rushing touchdowns, two by passing. Only one LSU receiver (Travin Dural) has reached double digits in receptions and he has just 10 catches with zero TD receptions to his name.
The USC defense is ninth in the SEC in rushing defense (170.0 yards per game). However, it has allowed at least 163 rushing yards in four of five games, including 200+ yards in three contests. Thus, the Gamecocks have yet to prove they can consistently stop the run, which is bad news as they head to LSU, which leads the SEC in rushing offense with an average of 336.0 yards per game. Almost 65 percent of those yards belong to Fournette.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Brandon Harris, RB Leonard Fournette, WR Travin Dural, LT Jerald Hawkins, C Ethan Pocic, TE Dillon Gordon.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Marquavius Lewis, DT Dante Sawyer, DE Boosie Whitlow, MLB T.J. Holloman, OLB Skai Moore, SPR T.J. Gurley, FS Isaiah Johnson.
KEY MATCHUP: RB Leonard Fournette vs. MLB T.J. Holloman.
SYNOPSIS: Would you blame the Gamecock players if they believed the football gods were conspiring against them? Probably not. Before the season began, this contest was one of the most anticipated games on USC's home schedule. Now they must travel to Baton Rouge because of circumstances far beyond their control. LSU is difficult to beat anywhere. At home? Virtually impossible. Only Alabama has had consistent success there over the years. Too much Leonard Fournette + lack of firepower for the Gamecocks + bad luck = too many obstacles for USC to overcome against the powerful Tigers in a "home" game for USC played about 700 miles from Columbia.
PREDICTION: LSU 34, USC 13
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Sandstorm Podcast with @GCChrisClark & @RixonLane - Overs/unders for USC-LSU (and more) http://t.co/n2myk9dTiX pic.twitter.com/xgZVb7zyvj- GamecockCentral.com (@GamecockCentral) October 8, 2015