Published October 14, 2012
BATON ROUGE, La. – Connor Shaw had South Carolina in position for a memorable triumph in LSU's Death Valley when one inexplicable overthrow of an open receiver landed right in safety Eric Reid's lap.
Reid returned the interception to the Gamecocks' 22, and LSU's Drew Alleman kicked his third field goal to give LSU a fourth-quarter lead it would not relinquish in a 23-21 victory over third-ranked South Carolina on Saturday night.
"I was off balance," Shaw said of the interception. "I just kind of rushed the throw and it got away from me."
Shaw finished 19 of 34 for 177 yards and two TDs, but was intercepted twice, once by Reid and then on the final desperate play by Craig Loston.
"I don't know if he got hit in the head tonight or not," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said of Shaw. "Some of his decision-making was a little off. ... Connor has played beautifully all year. He had some good plays tonight but he wasn't as sharp as he's been."
LSU (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) substantially outgained South Carolina (6-1, 4-1), 406 yards to 211, but struggled to find the end zone. Three times, LSU settled for field goals after driving at least as far as the Gamecocks 5-yard line, and another drive to the South Carolina 15 stalled on a missed field goal.
The Gamecocks were done in by LSU freshman running back Jeremy Hill, who highlighted a 124-yard, two-touchdown performance with a 50-yard scoring run with that gave the Tigers a nine-point lead with 5:03 left.
The run caused bedlam in Death Valley, exactly what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier did not want to see — or hear — after jokingly pretending to be momentarily confused this past week about the fact there are two Death Valley's, one at LSU and one at Clemson.
"That was Death Valley," Miles said triumphantly afterward. "That was the place where opponents' dreams come to die — and it was spectacular."
Shaw drove South Carolina for a late TD on a short pass to Bruce Ellington with 1:41 left, and the Gamecocks got the ball once more with 35 seconds left, but LSU's defense held up.
Zach Mettenberger had the latest in a string of inconsistent performances but made enough big throws to sustain scoring drives, finishing 12 of 25 for 148 yards. He had one costly interception returned 70 yards by Jimmy Legree, setting up South Carolina's first TD.
Shaw also was sacked four times — twice by defensive end Sam Montgomery, a South Carolina native.
"South Carolina was coming into our house as the third-ranked team in the country and my mom was here to see me play for the first time this season," Montgomery said. "There was so many things to play for other than just the game."
LSU limited South Carolina, led by star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, to only sack by linebacker Shaq Wilson.
"Some guys came out to play but some guys didn't," said Clowney, who had six tackles. "It may be because they were scared. We will address that in practice. We can't come out against Florida like that" next weekend.
LSU tamed the Gamecocks' pass rush by pounding the ball on the ground, finishing with a whopping 258-34 advantage in yards rushing.
"Tonight I realized why LSU was preseason No. 1. They can run the ball and stop the run," Spurrier said. "That was the biggest difference in the game, probably."
Marcus Lattimore had a quiet night by his standards, gaining only 35 yards on 13 carries, but give the Gamecocks a 14-10 lead in the third quarter when he impressively broke Reid's tackle on a 2-yard scoring run.
Under heavy criticism after failing to produce at touchdown in a loss a week earlier at Florida, LSU's offense was down to only two opening day starters on the line because right guard Josh Williford was unable to return from a concussion and right tackle Alex Hurst was excused for personal reasons.
The unit opened impressively by driving 69 yards on 16 plays, but settled for a field goal after freshman right tackle Vadal Alexander, elevated to starter two weeks earlier, was flagged for a false start on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
The Tigers were moving on their second series as well until Mettenberger's only major mistake — Legree's interception, which was returned to the LSU 1. That set up Ace Sanders' short TD catch to give South Carolina a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks were threatening to build on their lead late in the second quarter, but Josh Downs' sack for a loss of 9 yards to the LSU 37 forced a punt.
That allowed LSU to go back in front on Hill's 7-yard touchdown on the first series of the second half.