BATON ROUGE, La. — With LSU's back against the wall, nearly down-and-out at home against No. 3 South Carolina, the Tigers turned to Jeremy Hill and the defense.
Both delivered and because they did, national title hopes remain alive.
Hill rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns, including a fourth-quarter 50-yard roar-inducing dash through the middle of the Gamecocks defense that turned into the game-winning points in LSU’s 23-21 victory.
“I think we kind of wore those guys down,” Hill said. “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.”
It nearly wasn’t enough. South Carolina took the ensuing possession 77 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a one-yard touchdown pass that cut LSU’s nine-point lead to just two with 1:41 to play.
South Carolina’s onside kick screamed out of bounds and LSU held on.
And once again, the Tigers (6-1, 2-1 SEC) can dream of BCS title hopes.
“It really was a street fight on both sides,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I’d like to distance myself from the opponent a bit more.”
A week after one of the school’s worst offensive performances in years, LSU put together a game that should begin to give it confidence back. The Tigers racked up more than 400 yards and converted 11 of 19 third downs.
LSU’s defense did the rest, holding South Carolina’s offense to just 199 yards and allowing the Gamecocks to convert only 3 of 13 third downs. South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) got only 35 yards on 13 carries from Marcus Lattimore.
“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.”
Saturday night marked the 22nd consecutive win in Tiger Stadium for LSU and kept the Tigers from losing back-to-back games for the first time since 2008.
LSU’s defense took the field first and set the tone early in the hard-hitting interdivisional SEC Top 10 showdown. Barkevious Mingo stuffed South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore on third-and-one, forcing a Gamecocks punt.
And then the Tigers used a varied offense to get into scoring position. LSU called five passes and nine runs to move into a first-and-goal spot at the South Carolina 3. But three straight run plays netted just 2 yards, including Kenny Hilliard getting stood up at the goal line, and LSU settled for an 18-yard Drew Alleman field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Tigers’ defense once again forced a South Carolina punt. Once again, LSU looked to be moving towards points, using a third-down screen pass to Jeremy Hill for 21 yards to get into South Carolina territory. But Zach Mettenberger’s fourth thrown interception of the season killed the drive and swung momentum to the Gamecocks.
Two plays after the Gamecocks’ Jimmy Legree returned an interception 71 yards to LSU’s 1-yard line, Connor Shaw hit Ace Sanders for a touchdown, putting the Tigers in a 7-3 hole early in the second quarter.
“It’s a play we ran four weeks in a row. It worked every week,” said Mettenberger, who finished 12 of 25 for 148 yards. “I went through my read. Find the defender to cover the bubble and they game planned it. You could tell by how the corner jumped it. No excuses there.”
On the ensuing series after South Carolina’s touchdown, the Tigers drove to the Gamecocks’ 15. But three straight plays netted no yards and Alleman pushed a 32-yard field goal left, leaving LSU with nothing after a chance to cut into South Carolina’s lead or even take it back.
South Carolina then went on its longest drive of the first half, a 12-play drive that moved as deep as the LSU 28. Josh Downs, however, came up big for LSU’s defense on second down, sacking Shaw for a 10-yard loss to take the Gamecocks out of field goal range.
LSU got the ball to begin the third quarter and 3 minutes, 36 seconds later, the team’s long touchdown drought came to an end. Jeremy Hill’s 7-yard touchdown ended a nearly 145-minute stretch of SEC games with a touchdown for the Tigers and gave LSU a 10-7 lead. The touchdown was the first time in three red-zone possessions the Tigers were able to punch up a full score.
After trading possession, the Tigers allowed Gamecocks returner Ace Sanders to get to the LSU 36. A penalty, however, negated the 50-yard return and put South Carolina at its own 46-yard line. No matter as the Gamecocks used just 1:41 on five plays to re-take the lead 14-10 on Lattimore’s 2-yard run.
The Tigers cut into South Carolina’s lead 14-13 when they had to settle for a 20-yard Alleman field goal after three plays inside the 10 netted just six yards with 10:17 to play.
Moments later, Alleman drilled a 22-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 16-14 lead. The score came after LSU’s biggest defensive play of the night, an interception by junior safety Eric Reid on a Gamecocks’ third down.