BATON ROUGE, La. — Sam Montgomery stood beneath Tiger Stadium, a huddle of people surrounding the still-perspiring giant less than an hour after a nerve-rattling 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina.
And for maybe the first time ever, an athlete spoke the truth.
The Tigers had, in fact, not taken 2012 “one game at a time,” Montgomery hinted.
They hadn’t, in fact, respected every opponent, he insinuated.
They hadn’t, in fact, been much like the marauding, soul-crushing team of 2011, he implied.
This week, that all changed.
“Maybe we needed a loss to be humbled, to get that hunger back, to get adversity knowing that everything doesn’t come so easily,” Montgomery said. “I think it was something we needed to wake us back to get us playing tough, hard-nosed football.”
Indeed, LSU reignited a potential national championship campaign Saturday night that, just a week earlier in Gainesville, Fla., looked to be extinguished.
“This summer we set goals. We set high goals – win the SEC West, win the SEC championship, go on to the national championship,” freshman running back Jeremy Hill said. “Anything less than that at this school is not acceptable. So we know we have to come out every game and play our best and we did a good job of that tonight.”
The Tigers turned back the clock Saturday night, using a time-honed game-plan of ball control offense and big-time defense.
Against Florida, they had only one of those keys and, eventually, the defense gave out with exhaustion.
Against South Carolina, the offense came to the aid of the defense, a nearly magisterial night that ended with 406 total yards, 258 of which came on the ground in spite of a re-worked offensive line that included two inexperienced freshmen.
Turning the tables from the previous Saturday, LSU controlled the ball for 14 minutes more than the Gamecocks by converting 11 of 19 third downs, staying on the field at key moments.
Meanwhile, LSU allowed South Carolina’s offense only 211 total yards and only 3 of 13 on third downs. The Tigers’ defensive line outshined South Carolina’s, sacking quarterback Connor Shaw four times and helped force two critical interceptions.
There were still issues, teaching points that if not learned, could cost LSU down the line. LSU moved inside South Carolina’s 5-yard line three times, but didn’t score a touchdown on any of the series, kicking field goals instead.
Still, for maybe the first time this season, Tiger Stadium shook like the old steel masterpiece used to.
“Let me tell you – that was Death Valley,” said Les Miles, LSU’s answer to the Head Ball Coach. “That was the place where opponent’s dreams come to die. It was spectacular.”
Saturday night was only the finished product for LSU.
The hard work, they said, was put in during the week.
“It was little bit more rallied, a little bit more focused,” linebacker Lamin Barrow said, describing practices this past week. “We knew coming off a loss like that from Florida, we knew we had a job to get done this week. I think people would expect us to be kind of down but we were right back up, even more confident going into this game.”
One win doesn’t a season make and those players speaking beneath the stands at the stadium know it.
But they also know that, for the first time this season, they put together a performance that can be construed a positive step forward towards their goal.
The win keeps alive, at least for a week, the significance of the Nov. 3 home game against No. 1 Alabama. It also keeps alive their hopes of something bigger.
“I think this team is a sleeping giant,” Montgomery said. “It’s one of those things that it takes time but we got a little bit comfortable within ourselves.”
And that could be a scary thing for everyone else.