October 14, 2012

MORRIS: Season’s goals still within USC’s reach

When your team suffers a defeat the magnitude of South Carolina’s loss to LSU on Saturday, it sometimes is difficult to go beneath the surface and find its true meaning. Here is what the loss truly means: not much.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When your team suffers a defeat the magnitude of South Carolina’s loss to LSU on Saturday, it sometimes is difficult to go beneath the surface and find its true meaning.

Here is what the loss truly means: not much.

USC still has every remaining goal left to attain this season. It still can win the national championship. It still can win the SEC title. It still can win the SEC East crown. It still can play in a BCS bowl.

The only thing that died at Death Valley was the prospect of an undefeated season, and frankly, only the elite of the elite march through a college football campaign without a loss these days.

Beyond that, the loss does not diminish the enormity of this week’s showdown at Florida. Now that is a game with meaning. The winner will claim the driver’s seat in the chase for the SEC East crown, likely head to Atlanta for the league championship game and remain in national title contention.

While it is easy to brush aside all importance of the LSU loss, it is not so easy to ignore the manner in which USC was pushed around and beaten by the Tigers. USC has areas of concern to deal with over the next week of preparation.

Most alarming was the way LSU’s offensive line dominated USC’s defensive front. This was an LSU line decimated by injuries and starting its fifth lineup in seven games. The latest lineup included two freshmen.

LSU’s line was going against a USC front considered to be among the nation’s best. That front was responsible for USC ranking fourth in the country in scoring defense (10.5 points per game), fourth in sacks (4.17 per game) and ninth in rushing defense (83.9 yards allowed per game).

The 23 points LSU scored came on a pair of touchdowns and three field goals. USC’s defense has not bent or broken all season — until Saturday. LSU produced one scoring drive that lasted 16 plays, consumed 7:47 of the game clock and covered 69 yards. Another one went 16 plays for 75 yards and took 7:57.

LSU’s offensive line produced sizable holes for its running backs. Other times, it pushed USC’s defensive line off the ball. The Tigers finished with 258 yards rushing on 53 carries, the biggest of which was a 50-yard sprint to the end zone by Jeremy Hill that essentially sealed the win.

The defensive problems were only half of it for USC.

The Gamecocks’ offense only found a gear it could operate in for its final touchdown when it clicked for 77 yards on 11 plays with Connor Shaw connecting on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington.

Aside from that drive, USC’s other scores came on a five-play, 54-yard drive and as the result of a standout play by the defense. Jimmy Legree’s 70-yard interception return set USC up at the LSU 1-yard-line, and the Gamecocks scored two plays later.

Otherwise, USC’s offense was inept. The one-two running punch of Marcus Lattimore and Shaw that had confounded opponents all season, never found running room against LSU. USC managed 34 yards rushing, including 35 on 13 carries by Lattimore.

The passing game was equally stagnant. Shaw completed 19 of 34 passes for 177 yards as LSU took away any and all deep throws. The underneath passes that were completed fell short of first downs more often than not.

In the end, the loss was reminiscent of USC’s defeat to Arkansas two seasons ago, one that left the Gamecocks with more questions than answers heading into a late-season showdown at Florida with the SEC East title on the line.

USC rebounded with a resounding victory.

That is why no one should read too much into the loss to LSU. Frankly, LSU needed the win much more than USC did. A loss would have eliminated the Tigers from conference title contention, and that showed throughout in the electricity of the crowd of 92,734 at Tiger Stadium.

“That was the place opponents’ dreams come to die,” LSU coach Les Miles said of the crowd. Miles could be excused for his hyperbole over what was a meaningful and exciting victory for his club.

But the fact is, none of USC’s dreams died with Saturday’s loss.

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