It’s certainly not the perfect game or ideal matchup to start finding some answers, but the Tigers have had two weeks to prepare for South Carolina and need to show improvement on both sides of the ball.
With no Myles Brennan, LSU will be in a difficult position offensively starting two freshmen quarterbacks after finding a rhythm with Brennan in its last two games.
Here are a few predictions for the game and what the Tigers need to do to come away with a win over South Carolina.
Prediction: LSU 30, South Carolina 27
Particularly on offense, with LSU expecting to play two freshmen quarterbacks, it’ll be hard to gauge what the third down and goal line improvements will look like until Brennan returns. However, the run game can start to show signs of consistency and the goal line and third down can show off some new designs that Orgeron and the players alluded to this week.
Let's start with the running game as coach Ed Orgeron said that will be of vital importance in order for the Tigers to open up passing lanes for its young quarterbacks. LSU has just one performance to hang its hat on this season in the run game, a 103-yard performance out of John Emery against Vanderbilt.
In that game, it was guard Ed Ingram who opened up many of the running lanes and after a one game absence against Missouri, Ingram will be back in the lineup. Ingram said on Tuesday the offense likes to run a lot of "wide zone" in the running attack, where the offensive line moves as one and blocks in a particular direction while the running back finds the hole that is opened up.
"Wide zone is a pretty good play for us," Ingram said. "We're trying to develop a new scheme with the wide zone. We're trying to practice it more and find more of a rhythm and getting a better of idea of our spots."
If the running game can be steered in the right direction, the next step is creating those easy throws for TJ Finley. Orgeron announced Thursday that Finley would draw the start over Max Johnson but did say he thinks both will play.
LSU wants to get Finley into a groove with those easy throws so expect tight end Arik Gilbert and receiver Terrace Marshall to run more intermediate and short routes early in the game to get the two freshmen in a rhythm.
Orgeron said Wednesday that both quarterbacks have strong arms and are big enough to make the throws. But the real difference that will come out on Saturday is which one handles the in-game nerves and adjustments the best.
Third down and goal line improvements will likely have to wait until Brennan comes back to see the full effect. Not to say that Finley and Johnson won't be able to convert on third down and on the goal line. In fact, it can't get much worse than 0-for-10 on third down and being stopped four straight times inside the two-yard line.
But Brennan has established himself as the starter so it’ll be interesting to see what the offense looks like when he ultimately returns.
It'll be interesting to see the approach in those situations as Orgeron said Monday the Tigers had "found some answers" down on the goal line with the insertion of a few new plays. On third down, you'd hope to see LSU get in more manageable situations, like third and five as opposed to third and eight. That comes back to being more successful on the ground on first and second down.
"It was the running game on first down. We worked hard on that last week. It's really important this game and any game for us to get the running game going," Orgeron said. "That's going to set up the pass. We cannot be one-dimensional. We have to be able to block better up front. We have to be able to run the football better in order to not get behind on second and 10, third and 10."
One of the three running backs will run for 100 yards while Marshall and Gilbert will each put up stellar lines as well.
On defense, you hope to see any number of improvements but first and foremost, the miscommunication and missed assignments must be eliminated. South Carolina doesn't have a prolific passing attack but running back Kevin Harris will carve the LSU front seven up if they're caught out of position like much of the Missouri game.
Harris is third in the conference in rushing yards while LSU has allowed 333 yards on the ground in its last two matchups. Linebacker Jabril Cox says the defense has worked tirelessly to simplify what its doing during presnap, eliminating a lot of movement and assigning numbers for each player to focus on.
"It's all about us the players because we haven't really been playing to the LSU standard. We're taking it among ourselves to show that the scheme really works," Cox said.
If the miscommunication and assignments can be fixed, it leads to less explosive plays of 20 yards or more, which has been the defense's biggest problem this season. It's a critical week for defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to find some answers and put his players in better positions to succeed.
LSU has done a great job of applying pressure, forcing turnovers nine turnovers in three games for a +6 turnover margin, tied for fifth nationally. The problem that directly faces Pelini is how to continue to apply pressure while at the same time making sure the players aren't out of position.
Cox returned an interception for a touchdown in the first game in Tiger Stadium and with the team's ability to force turnovers, it wouldn't be a bit surprising to see a defensive or special teams score be the ultimate determining factor against the Gamecocks.
This will be the most interesting matchup to date for a number of reasons. It'll be a back and forth battle but LSU will find a way to squeak out a win with its back against the wall.