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Joe Person's forecast, prediction for USC-LSU

Before the season started, college football fans looked at LSU’s three-week October stretch against SEC East teams (at Florida, at USC, home vs. Georgia) and predicted that the Tigers’ trip to Columbia could be one of those dreaded “trap” games.

After dispatching the Gators, the thinking went, LSU would have to avoid looking past the Gamecocks before facing Georgia.

So much for that.

After getting spanked by 30 in the Swamp last weekend, the Tigers won’t be overlooking anyone. But that does not guarantee LSU a win at Williams-Brice.

You’ve read or heard by now that LSU has never lost back-to-back, regular-season games under Les Miles, aka “The Hat.”

But here’s the stat that I can’t get my head around: Through five games, the Tigers have forced just four turnovers – four! That’s fewer than every Division I-A team except Rutgers and Washington, which also have four takeaways.

LSU’s defense had 36 turnovers last year during its national championship season. But there are a bunch of ball-hawks from that team who have left Baton Rouge, namely Glenn Dorsey, Ali Highsmith and Craig Steltz.

I keep hearing how the Tigers are going to come after Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia, making his first start. But until last week at Florida, LSU had not shown much of a pass rush.

Turnovers are big every game, obviously. But given the above numbers and the fact that USC has turned the ball over more than any team in the SEC, they are especially big this week.

If USC’s does a good job protecting Garcia and the right-hander does not force throws into coverage, the Gamecocks – who lead the SEC in first downs – should move the ball on LSU’s defense.

So the question becomes whether Ellis Johnson’s defense can’t stop LSU’s offense, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee. And the answer is yes … and no.

The Gamecocks should be able to clamp down on Lee and the Tigers’ passing game. But Charles Scott, the Tigers’ bruising, 233-pound tailback, could pose big problems.

Johnson told Steve Spurrier this week that LSU’s offensive line looked like an NFL line. The Tigers could play with just the left side of their line – 6-5, 325-pound tackle Ciron Black and 6-7, 375-pound guard Herman Johnson – and hold their own with a couple of Pac-10 defenses.

I’m expecting a close, well-played game with Garcia building on last week’s performance and the Gamecocks taking better care of the ball.

But I think the difference will be the running attacks. LSU is 24-0 under Miles when rushing for 100 yards and holding its opponent under 100 yards on the ground.

Make it 25.

LSU 27, USC 24