LSU faced a must-win situation to keep hopes of competing for a national championship alive and was entering Death Valley with a makeshift offensive line to take on Steve Spurrier’s high-octane No. 3 ranked South Carolina squad, featuring college football’s most feared pass rusher, Jadeveon Clowney.
Behind the strength of an offensive line with two freshmen starting and the power of junior wrecking-ball FB J.C. Copeland, LSU rallied to a 23-21 victory, holding Clowney without a sack and set the tone in the run game, with powerful freshman Jeremy Hill plowing through one of the nation’s most talented defenses.
Most impressive was the performance of LSU’s star-studded defensive line, which held South Carolina junior RB Marcus Lattimore to 35 yards on 13 carries (including a key stuff on 3rd-and-2), controlled the line of scrimmage and kept Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw out of rhythm and forcing the ball.
LSU junior DE Sam Montgomery, a South Carolina native who served as captain for the Tigers, came out playing with emotion from the outset and ratcheted up two sacks on the day, including one on a critical 3rd-and-11 situation with barely six minutes remaining in the game. With juniors DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan and sophomore Anthony Johnson also rushing hard, Shaw never looked comfortable in the pocket.
The turning point of the game came when junior WR Ace Sanders slipped along the sideline and Tigers junior FS Eric Reid intercepted the errant throw, setting up the Tigers for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter. Reid is not an elite athlete, but his instincts against the run and pass are outstanding and he has shown a knack for being in the right place at the right time throughout his career.
Coming off a 14-6 upset loss to Florida last week and without senior ORT Alex Hurst, who was a no-show for the South Carolina contest amid speculation that he left the team earlier in the week, LSU showed the resolve to overcome a halftime deficit and stay in the race.
The most spectacular big play for the Gamecocks came on a 50-yard punt return by Sanders, who shows superb vision, agility and burst to become an impact returner at the next level.
• In a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech senior WR Quinton Patton stole the show, grabbing 21-233-4, after only one 10-yard grab coming in the first quarter. Most of the 6-0 1⁄8, 201-pound receiver’s production came after the catch on lateral tosses. He’s not a refined route runner, but he catches everything thrown his way, is slippery after the catch and has a passion for the game that could allow him to thrive in an NFL offense featuring a lot of speed cuts where he creates most of his separation.
• After a slow start this season, Wisconsin senior RB Montee Ball returned to form against Purdue, breaking the Big Ten record for career TDs (he now has 72) while rushing for a career-high 247 yards on 29 carries. The Badgers’ ground game has taken time to get started after new OL coach Mike Markuson was replaced by graduate assistant Bart Miller in the second week of the season, but Ball is finding his own ways to create yardage, as he did shaking two tacklers for a 67-yard run early in the second half. Despite his struggles, he has received first-round grades from NFL evaluators passing through Wisconsin this fall and still might be able to overcome a rough offseason.
• The Geno Smith hype machine has been in full force since he rewrote the record books against an awful Baylor defense, but the balloon was deflated against Texas Tech, who followed the lead of Texas last week and brought an array of pressure to confuse the Heisman Trophy front-runner while slamming the short-passing game where Smith has made his biggest mark. The result — the West Virginia QB threw nearly as many incompletions in this game as he previously had all season, finishing with 29-of-55 passing (52.7-percent clip) in a 49-14 Red Raiders rout.
• Stanford senior RB Stepfan Taylor ran hard on four consecutive tries in overtime against Notre Dame and by some angles, appeared to score on his final try, but referees ruled that he was down before the ball crossed the goal line, giving the Irish a 20-13 victory to remain undefeated. Taylor, a tough, downhill runner who carries Stanford’s offense, had little room to run against a stout ND defensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage.
• Notre Dame and Stanford have established a solid pipeline of tight ends entering the NFL, with Coby Fleener (34th overall in 2012) and Kyle Rudolph (43rd in ’11) being the first selected in recent years. The top receivers from each program, Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz, could contend for the distinction as the top pass-catching tight end in the 2013 NFL draft if both underclassmen declare as anticipated. Eifert and Ertz aren’t the only tight ends at the schools worth mentioning. There’s talented Stanford senior Levine Toilolo and ND sophomores Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas (a converted rush ’backer).