BATON ROUGE -- Facing third-ranked South Carolina with a decimated offensive line and coming off its first regular-season loss in 18 games, No. 9 LSU bullied the Gamecocks to the tune of 406 yards, had four sacks and added two interceptions to regain its footing in the race for a championship, 23-21.
With 92,734 mostly gold-clad LSU fans screaming like there was no tomorrow, Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium came alive once again to give the Tigers a 22nd-straight win at home and new life in the Southeastern Conference.
"That was Death Valley. That was the place where opponents' dreams come to die. It started early and it ended late," Les Miles said. "I recognize the great advantage that the team has in this stadium."
Miles earned an 81st victory in his 100th game as LSU's head coach, as the Tigers improved to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in SEC play.
Next week, LSU travels to Texas A&M's Kyle Field for the first time since 1995. Kickoff for the Oct. 20 game will be announced on Sunday.
Running back Jeremy Hill led the way for LSU, as the freshman broke off a 50-yard touchdown run with 5:03 left that proved the game winner.
Hill ran 17 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. LSU outran South Carolina, 258-34, while Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore was held to 35 yards on 13 carries.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger finished 12-of-25 passing for 148 yards. He was sacked once and his lone interception was returned 70 yards to the LSU 1, leading to South Carolina's first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
However, it was Mettenberger's decision making and clutch play that helped LSU convert 11-of-19 third downs one week after struggling to stay on the field at Florida. After holding the ball for fewer than 22 minutes in the 14-6 loss in Gainesville last week, the Tigers offense turned the tables this week. LSU held a 36:57-23:03 advantage in time of possession.
"We only have two guys starting that started the first game with La'el [Collins] and P.J. [Lonergan]," Mettenberger said. "I thought the old man at left tackle [sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk] had a hell of a game, he was on [Jadeveon] Clowney all night. The two young guys, Vadal [Alexander] and Trai [Turner] played lights out. I think they're going to be a good combo in the future on the right side for sure."
Running back Spencer Ware added 55 yards on 15 carries for LSU, while Michael Ford ran seven times for 41 yards and Kenny Hilliard had 10 touches for 33 net yards. Jarvis Landry was LSU's leading receiver with 55 yards on four catches.
Defensively, Lamin Barrow had a career-best 12 tackles while Kevin Minter added nine. LSU had seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage including the four sacks. Sam Montgomery earned two of the sacks, while Barkevious Mingo and Josh Downs had one each. Eric Reid and Craig Loston each had interceptions.
South Carolina suffered its first loss of the season, falling to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. The Gamecocks next travel to Gainesville for a matchup against Florida.
"Tonight I realized why LSU was preseason No. 1," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "They're a big, strong team. They can run the ball and stop the run. That was the biggest difference in the game probably. I don't know how many rushing yards they had, but I know we didn't have many at all. I give those guys credit."
Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw was 19-of-34 passing for 177 yards with two short touchdown passes. He was pressured throughout the game, suffering 30 yards of sack yardage while being hurried six more times.
The Gamecocks managed only 3-of-13 on third down.
South Carolina won the toss and elected to receive. LSU kicked off defending the south endzone, and quickly forced a three-and-out when Barrow and Minter stuffed Lattimore behind the line.
After a 40-yard punt that went out of bounds, Mettenberger completed 4-of-5 passes for 42 yards to help LSU advance to the South Carolina 11. Ware picked up a first down to the 3 with a carry from under center, but after timeouts preceding third and fourth down, LSU freshman offensive tackle Vadal Alexander was flagged for false start, and Drew Alleman was called upon for his first of three field goals.
The 16-play drive tied LSU's longest of the season, and LSU led 3-0 with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter.
South Carolina overcame a sack by Montgomery to gain a first down on a short pass to its tight end, but two runs by Shaw netted 2 yards and South Carolina punted again.
The 31-yard effort left LSU in great field position at its 42, where Mettenberger completed a 21-yard screen pass to Hill on third-and-10.
Two plays later from the USC 34, Mettenberger made his biggest mistake of the half when he made a quick drop, looked for Kadron Boone on a slant but instead was picked off by Jimmy Legree at the South Carolina 29. Legree returned 70 yards to the LSU 1 to setup the Gamecock's only score of the half.
On the first play of the second quarter, Shaw rolled right and found Ace Sanders just inside the endzone for a 2-yard touchdown.
Despite being outgained, 97-25, South Carolina converted on the 1-yard drive and went ahead 7-3.
After a kickoff out-of-bounds by South Carolina, LSU looked to answer immediately, as Copeland gained nine yards for a first down to midfield. A completion of 12 yards to Beckham Jr. and runs of 13 and 7 by Ford put LSU in the redzone at the 17. After Hill picked up the first down with a 3-yard run to the 15, Landry ran a perfect slant-and-go to the left corner of the endzone but he was overthrown by Mettenberger. Alleman's 32-yard field goal attempt just slipped outside the left upright and LSU left with no points.
Each team entered the other's territory in the final nine minutes of the half, but each came up short of field goal range and punted.
With the exception of the interception return to the 1, LSU dominated the first half of play. The Tigers outgained the Gamecocks, 179-69, held the ball for 17:25 of 30 minutes, and converted 7-of-10 third downs. However, two of the three third downs missed were in the redzone, as LSU missed out on points with a short field goal missed and a false start penalty on fourth down at the USC 1.
South Carolina kicked off to start the second half, and Ford returned from his endzone to the 31. On third-and-4, Mettenberger connected with Landry coming across the field for 16 yards to the Gamecocks 47 to give LSU its eight third-down conversion of the evening. A 17-yard run by Hilliard gave the Tigers another first down and a 9-yard run by Hill setup his 7-yard touchdown run with 11:13 remaining in the third quarter.
LSU's first touchdown in 29 drives against an SEC opponent put the Tigers ahead 10-7.
The Tigers looked to keep momentum in the game with its defense, as Mingo ran down Shaw on third-and-8 to force another punt, however, a couple of overthrown passes by Mettenberger on the ensuing drive led to another punt.
Though it was Brad Wing's best effort of the night -- 56 yards to the South Carolina 11 -- Ace Sanders returned it 61 yards to the LSU 28. However, a personal foul on the Gamecocks cost them 26 yards. Starting on his 46, Shaw used the option to gain a first down with 17 yards to the LSU 37. Another option pitch to Lattimore for six yards led to a 29-yard throw-back to tight end Justice Cunningham to the LSU 2. Two plays later, Reid missed a tackle in the backfield and Lattimore scored to put South Carolina ahead 14-10 with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Consecutive punts gave the Tigers possession on its 22 where they began another 16-play drive that lasted 7:57. Hill and Ware took turns pounding the Gamecocks line, as Ware gained three third-down conversions on the drive. On second-and-12, Mettenberger connected with Landry for 19 yards on a slant to the South Carolina 20. Ware's final third down run gave the Tigers first-and-goal at the 9, but a third-down pass to tight end Nick Jacobs was sailed out of the endzone. LSU decided to take the field goal and cut the deficit to 14-13 with 10:17 remaining in the game.
LSU's defense again capitalized on its offense's success, putting Shaw in a third-and-6 situation. The quarterback rolled out of the pocket and overthrew Sanders into the waiting hands of Reid. Reid returned 29 yards to the South Carolina 22.
Ware gained a first down with 11 yards on the first play, but Hill came up short after consecutive runs to the 5. Alleman connected from 22 yards to give LSU the lead, 16-14, with 6:37 left to play.
Two LSU sacks had Shaw reeling and South Carolina punting once again. Though Beckham Jr. was tackled as he caught the punt, Hill came through with the biggest play of the night on the next play from scrimmage. Hill broke through the line and ran past two defenders in the secondary for a 50-yard touchdown that was a back-breaker for the Gamecocks.
LSU led 23-14 with 5:03 to play.
South Carolina took advantage of a personal foul in LSU territory and earned a 1-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 remaining.
Beckham Jr. was unable to field a ground ball of an onside kick, but it quickly went out of bounds and LSU took over. The Tigers ran the clock down to 35 seconds and South Carolina's final play was an interception by LSU safety Craig Loston.
LSU HEAD COACH LES MILES
"First of all, hats off to a very game performance by South Carolina. I felt that they played their hearts out. It was a very competitive game. They are a talented team. Our football team, coming off of the Florida game, just could not bear to do anything but win. They performed well and practiced hard all week. It took a team (effort), it really did. We rushed for some yards. We finally got some possession time, and we finally were pretty good on third downs. The defense went out there, stopped and stymied, a very good South Carolina offense. Special teams did what they needed to do. I liked how Jeremy Hill played. I really thought that he had a big night. I enjoyed the two freshmen on the offensive line (Vadal Alexander and Trai Turner) playing in their first significant season. Eric Reid's interception in the back end is just what we needed. Yahoo!"
On Tiger Stadium...
"Let me tell you. That was Death Valley. That was the place where opponent's dreams come to die. It was spectacular. It started early, and it went late. It was with us the whole night. It was spectacular. I recognize the advantage that this team had in this stadium."
On the play of the offensive line and the offense...
"I thought that Stud (offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa) did a great job of getting them going. Josh Dworaczyk goes in there and gives us exactly what we needed at the left tackle. He is a veteran and understood what he needed to do. He did not overcommit in his moves, and I felt that he did a great job. When we rush the football and control the clock, (we) get our snaps and keep the defense off of the field. We're a whole different team, that is what happened tonight."
On the team's improvements...
"First of all, third downs. We were consistent on third down, and we rushed the football. We would get four or five yards and come back and do it again. I thought that Zach (Mettenberger) was good, minus one throw. When we play like that, we are pretty good."
On the type of game...
"It really was a street fight on both sides. I'd like to distance myself from the opponent a bit more."
LSU OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
On tonight's game ...
"I think we executed a lot better. That showed on the scoreboard and in the yards we put out. Really, that's what we should have been doing all year because we knew we could do it. From here on out, we just got to show up Monday with the same mentality and attitude we had this past week and just keep looking to get better."
On calling a team meeting last night ...
"Yeah, there was a meeting. A couple of other team leaders and myself called a meeting. Just to kind of make sure the team had the right mentality and make sure they were ready for the game tonight."
On offensive line ...
"You look at it, we only have two guys starting that started the first game with La'el [Collins] and P.J. [Lonergan]. I thought the old man at left tackle [Josh Dworaczyk] had a hell of a game, he was on [Jadeveon] Clowney all night. The two young guys, Vadal [Alexander] and Trai [Turner] played lights out. I think they're going to be a good combo in the future on the right side for sure."
RB Jeremy Hill
On whether the effort has been there all year ...
"I think the effort was there. You watch the film, and guys are playing hard. It was just one guy would mess up a play. We just kind of put it all together tonight."
On being patient behind other running backs ...
"I think that's something the coaches preach. They do a good job of keeping everyone patient. This team has a lot of depth. They recruit well every year. Once you come here, you know you're going to have to wait your turn to play. Once you get that opportunity, you've got to take advantage of it and run with it."
On success on the ground ...
"I think we kind of wore those guys down. They got tired as the game went on so we just kept running down hill, just hitting them hard, and eventually we were going to break one. That's kind of what I did"
LSU DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
LB Lamin Barrow
On playing as a team ...
"We feel like whenever we are on the field we love each other, have each other's back and are a brotherhood. It just works for us."
On containing Marcus Lattimore ...
"Chief preached to us all week to keep him bottled up. He is a great runner, but if you stop him and you hit him early, he hampers down. We just tried to stop his feet. He made some good plays here and there, but as a defense we rallied to him and shut him down."
On the home crowd ...
"It was beautiful. Congrats to the fans. This is the best game we have had all season. The fans kept us alive and kept us motivated. Running out from the tunnel for the first time was beautiful. It was a great feeling."
On tonight's game ...
"It was one of those things where I just wanted to get back to the basics. It seemed like the right time coming out with South Carolina coming in No. 3, my mom was at the game for the first time this season and there were so many things to play for. It was great just to play the game."
On working with the offense ...
"Even though our offense scored some points and them being out there for long drives gave us time to rest, it didn't matter if they scored or not. We had their backs till the very end."
On his end of the game sack ...
"The quarterback tried to break down very gently, but then I sacked him. From that moment on, the game-winning sack is just like a punch in the face at the end of the night. It was one of those things that got me very excited. Even though it was loud in the stadium, it was quiet in my world."
SOUTH CAROLINA HEAD COACH STEVE SPURRIER
Opening statement ...
"Tonight I realized why LSU was preseason No. 1. They're a big, strong team. They can run the ball and stop the run. That was the biggest difference in the game probably. I don't know how many rushing yards they had, but I know we didn't have many at all. I give those guys credit. We weren't really sharp offensively. However, I guess we managed two tests then, perhaps in some nature. It wasn't a good offensive game. They deserved to beat us, there's no question about that. I give those guys credit."
On QB Connor Shaw ...
"I don't know if he got hit in the head tonight or not. I kept passing the GA (Graduate Assistant) and asking, 'Did he get hit in the head somewhere?' Some of his decision-making was a little off. In the first half, we had a guy running a deep run on our sideline, and he threw it to the other sideline. It was pretty irritating when he had a chance to hang one in the end zone, and he threw it to the other side. He just got confused. Anyway, I guess sometimes that happens. Connor (Shaw) has played beautifully all year. He had some good plays tonight, but he wasn't as sharp as he's been in the past. Hopefully, he can get back to it."
On LSU ...
"They were running much better than we thought they would. We didn't run it here as well as we hoped we would. That was probably the huge difference in the game right there. I was hoping their little field goals might not add up. I guess it came down to the long run when they made that last touchdown. It ended up being the difference-maker. We've played some good defenses, but they're really good. They were really good tonight. They weren't that good against Florida. They haven't been very good, but they were good tonight. That's football. Sometimes the team gets a little bit more fire and energy, and they have it. They had it tonight; there's no question about it. They beat us. They ran it; we couldn't run it. That was probably the huge difference in the game. We were ready to play, we have no excuses. We have no excuses whatsoever. They outplayed us and outhit us."
SOUTH CAROLINA OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
QB Connor Shaw
On the interception to Eric Reid...
"Yeah, I was off balance. I should have flipped my hips and set my feet. I just kind of rushed the throw, and it got away from me."
On how the lack of a running attack affected the offense...
"Yeah, I think it stunned us for the first half. We couldn't really establish it early on, and that's usually what we've been doing this season. I thought we left a lot of points on the board today."
On the physicality of the LSU defense...
"They came out very physical, I don't know how strong we came out. But like I said, we had chances. We just left them on the board."
RB Marcus Lattimore
On why South Carolina wasn't able to establish a running game...
"You know, just a good D-line. One of the best D-line's we've seen, just (one of the) best defenses we've seen, probably ever. We've just got to keep working. I think we could have got it going if we did some different things. We've just got to keep working, and we'll be alright."
On the strengths of the LSU defensive front...
"They do a good job of using their hands, all of them. Of course their two defensive ends, they're great players, but the two defensive tackles are the ones that make the D-line go. Just a great D-line, probably the best we've seen."
On still controlling their own destiny in the SEC...
"Definitely, and that's what we talked about. All of our goals are still there, and we can accomplish them."
DE Jadeveon Clowney
On tonight's game...
"Our front seven didn't come to play. We gave up too many yards and too many third down conversions. We can't win like that."
On South Carolina's defensive effort...
"Some guys came out to play, but some guys didn't. It may have been because of injuries. It may be because they were scared. We will address that in practice. We can't come out against Florida like that."
Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward
On South Carolina's run defense...
"It's not just on the defensive line. We have 11 guys on defense. We missed quite a few tackles today. (LSU) plays physical football. We knew that coming in. We thought we were capable of stopping it. We definitely know we have to go back to the drawing board.
On LSU's passing attack...
"We knew (LSU) would take one or two shots downfield. We knew going in were going to try to shut down the short passes. But our ultimate goal is to stop the run, and we didn't do that."
On South Carolina's red zone defense...
"We try to make sure we raise our level when we get in the red zone. We were in there too many times. I thought we did well when we were down there."